I have been using the Internet since 1990 when I got an account on UXA in college. I sent my first e-mail sometime around 1980. Back then, being online could be an unsettling experience. People were cold, rude and sometimes downright grouchy. Dirty ASCII pictures abounded (so I’ve been told). They gave way to storage sites of postage stamp sized clips of pornography and scratchy pirated music captured on 8 bit Sound Blaster cards.
Of course, this untamed wilderness was due to be civilized once more people got online. Housewives and the elderly would lead a campaign to purge the Internet of ickiness. Well, of course, not only did they not do this, they are the largest purveyors. However, concerned parents and clergy should not cower in fear. The virtual world of the Internet is just that – virtual. It doesn’t really exist. Children should be shielded from some of the language and images, but mostly for the protection of parents from questions they really don’t want to answer at this time. It should not be considered as dangerous as – say, the real world we inhabit.
Take social networking for example. I think it’s a lot safer to talk to strangers on the Internet than meeting them in person. People can fake being not-insane for a short time, but eventually it slips out. If you are in an online dialogue with someone and suddenly the conversation takes a dark turn towards the number of severed heads they have stored in the freezer, you can always just put their e-mail address in your spam list. If you meet this same person in a bar, chances are you’ll figure out they’re nuts about the time you’re in their kitchen looking for an ice cube.
On the other hand, you have the bipolar people who seem quite normal when you meet them on the street. Once they get online, they start writing the digital equivalent of foaming at the mouth, saying things people with Tourette’s would hesitate mentioning. While the Internet represents one of the closest analogues to true freedom in this world, you shouldn’t waste it on ill mannered, ill advised, illiterate postings. I always treat my online conversations as if I were talking to the person face to face. I use complete sentences, good grammar and the best spelling I can manage. When I see something tHAts ALL l1k3 wHAzzUP, the mental picture I get is someone who’s either drunk or suffering from some sort of palsy. They could be the wisest sage on the planet, but their message is lost between their brain and the keyboard.
About ten years ago, I started talking back and forth with a woman from Michigan. She seemed like a nice and normal person. I responded in kind and we had many interesting e-mails travel back and forth across the miles. She said I was the only person who – based on what I wrote – was worth meeting. After several months of online chats, we did meet physically and we ended up getting married. Good “netiquette” can pay off with big dividends!