AVOIDING CHAT ROOM TRAUMA (Medium length version)

Rev. Ivan Stang At Large column 1100 words

Remember the first time you logged onto a "chat room" crammed with 25 people all typing much faster than you can even TALK, but in Martian? And being barraged from all directions at once with helpful suggestions couched in seemingly insane gibberish? And then just when you thought you had a clue, five new windows spontaneously stacked up on your screen, as five different people sent you private messages, while maddening sound effects chirped and bubbled madly from your speakers? And you suffered pure sensory overload and a panicky feeling, like your home was being invaded by crazy people?

And you never tried it again?

In the unprepared, IRC can produce ever-accelerating, snowballing levels of confusion. But some folks get a "rush" from that confusion, just as some enjoy jumping out of planes or having themselves lashed to the back of an enraged bull.

To millions of people, AOL's baffling array of chat rooms IS the Internet. It's the first thing on the Net that they saw, and, like a newly hatched duckling who thinks the first object it sees is its mother, they haven't left it since. Of course, everybody except the very rich eventually graduates from AOL into the real Internet and its deeper, faster, infinitely more esoteric IRC realms, where sentences are longer than three words and nobody endlessly repeats the sentiment, "kewl."

This is where you encounter the dreaded hard core IRCers (rhymes with lurkers and irkers). The minute you land in their midst they must show off their respective bags of tricks and, using their impenetrable jargon, urge you to do scary-sounding things to your computer's innards. (If they try to "give you ops" don't be offended. It's not a disease; they're only trying to share control over the room.) You think REGULAR computer geeks are incomprehensible? You'll be hard pressed to find ANY English words in use by IRC junkies.

IRCers staunchly defend their addiction as being as "real" as real-life face to face conversation, conveniently forgetting the obvious fact that their faces cannot be punched over a modem. You will at first scorn them, and then pity them. Eventually you will probably become one of them, because, like a drug, one hit leads to another and the next thing you know, you live for the hard stuff.


Be ready for way too many people "talking" at once, forcing the screen to scroll too fast for readability, with half a dozen separate conversations interwoven in a jumbled mess.

The easiest way to deal with this is to focus on only one or two people, ignoring the rest. If you are seized with something to say, just DIVE IN -- ignore ALL the rest, type and send happily away as if you were king of the world, then sit back and wait for any reactions.

Most programs let you save all that text that's flashing by. Don't even try to make any sense out of it while it's happening; come back to the log later to decipher just what the hell they were talking about. Chat logs can also be good for mining surrealism from chaos when, entirely by coincidence, two conversations which actually had nothing to do with one another, appear to relate in bizarre, synchronistic ways!

IRC is glitchier than the slower, more methodical and rational media like newsgroups and email. A pigeon gets electrocuted on a phoneline in Peoria, or somebody trips over a wire at a server in New Zealand, and suddenly all your newfound buddies are gone from your life forever.

Go into it fully expecting that you WILL get hung up on, cut off, marooned in the twilight zone with one or two other baffled individuals, and that your gear will crash resoundingly... or all combined. 75% of the people will suddenly disappear and you'll find yourself in a much smaller room, wondering if you missed The Rapture. (This phenomenon is known by the vaguely obscene term, "netsplit.") Or your server will rudely hang up on you, but you don't know it, so you sit there blithely blabbering away to yourself, wondering why everyone else is so respectfully silent.

Worse yet, there are more than one "Internets" in this realm. There's an Overnet and an Undernet and a DALnet, each with their own chat worlds. And each server's behavior changes from day to day, like a psychotic's. One that worked great last night may be a bucking bronco tonight, pitching you off every 3 minutes. Or it may just keel over dead and disappear entirely.

DON'T try to understand it. That way lies madness. Just chalk it up to sunspots.

You may blunder into a place where they treat you like dirt, then shove you out into the cold. Well, it's theirs.

If your name in any way indicates that even one of your body parts might be remotely female, you'll get the inevitable "Wanna do some cyber?" To that horny guy on the other end, the monospaced text font representing you on his screen looks better than Marilyn Monroe. You can take advantage of that. You might enjoy stringing the poor guy along. Tell him you're in his city and that you'll meet him at the McDonalds near the Mall at 5 in the morning.

8. You know how you can attach art files, games, etc. to email? That can be done person to person via IRC too. It can scare the living daylights out of you when unexplained files that might, in your paranoid mind, be deadly viruses suddenly try to pour themselves into your machine. Usually it's just that one of the IRCers is sending you, say, a sound file so that when he types "I PUKE at you!," his puke sound emits from your box.

9. As with any Internet medium, substance abusers and mean drunks should refrain from what at the time might seem like righteous flaming and knowing gossip. A week later, you may well get a copy of it from a perfect stranger, or your mom, and have your nose rubbed in it.

10. Avoid prolonged exposure.

(Church of the SubGenius online devival services are held every Sunday night at 10 pm EST on undernet #subgenius.)

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