Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Internet - Community & Communication - Chat Rooms

I have been on the internet since 2/29/96. At least that’s what my AOL account tells me.  Hard to believe it’s been fifteen years of poking around on the web and experiencing the joys and woes of internet communication. Given the latest episode of disruption with an internet troll I thought I would share my experience of the internet with whoever might read this post. Don’t expect this post to be insightful or change the way you think about things. I just share my experience and what I have tried to learn from it.
Chapter 1 Chat Rooms
One of the first things that wowed me about AOL was e-mails and chat rooms. While e-mail was cool back in 96 for being able to send things easily to other people, it was chat rooms that were really amazing to me. To get a spontaneous group of people together to chat about whatever from around the globe was nothing short of miraculous to me.  On AOL I tried the various rooms for Catholic chat, named after the 3 Archangels and also went to a room called the Front Porch which was for more philosophical and general talk. My main screenname then was REVTCM –Rev. Thomas C. Miller. Incidentally try a google search for that, my name is soooo vanilla you will find out that we are almost legion.  Anyway, I tried to be up front about being a priest and let people know that in chat rooms.  It’s hard to gauge how people reacted to that, for all they knew I could be some punk kid making up an identity or some weirdo with the missing milk carton kids tucked away in a freezer.  To be honest, my skepticism about people on the internet was something that really got to me in the early days because I was so suspicious of the seemingly anonymous nature of the internet.
What I discovered early on was that the anonymous nature of the internet did not bring out the best in many people, it did just the opposite. I have never been attacked verbally in person like I have in a chat room.  The Catholic chat rooms tended to be the worst. Even before the scandal unfolded in 2002, I had the well adjusted people of AOL chat making comments about being a pedophile and unloading their frustrations with the church or clergy. Things were said that no one has ever said to me in person, because I would be tempted to punch them in the mouth or rip into them myself.  Lesson #1 was anonymity = cowardly irresponsibility. Not everyone, but too many were malicious, irresponsible and just plain gutless.  Far too many were spiteful, and I let a number of the jerks get to me. Against my better nature I got drawn into arguments that were a colossal waste of time and emotion.  The other thing I found was that the semi-instant nature of chatting seems to have made more people, including myself, into impatient argumentative pricks. While I would like to think that my dance as a self-actualized prick was infrequent, I fear that it was much more than it should have been as a decent human being let alone a priest. Mind you, I don’t believe in pedestals for anyone living. Praise the dead, their chance to totally mess up their lives is past, but the rest of us are still a work in progress. I have no illusions about thinking I am “better” because of my life; in fact I fear just the opposite that I am giving the Boss the green light to cook my goose for being such a lousy servant. Anyway, being cursed as a smart-ass was not a benefit to chat room conversations. After a two year flirtation with chat rooms, they lost their charm. While in many ways they allowed me to meet some wonderful people, in the end they tended to be pretty impersonal. Seeing insults and personal attack in print did not help me as an individual.  While I would tell myself that the words of some unknown jerk should not bother me, for whatever reason they often did. Chalk it up to my own insecurities or personal defects, but on a bad day a chat room could really take the joy out of my life. On a good day I thought they were pretty amazing.  I guess I am thankful that I only had time in the evening for chat rooms. If the world had become a global village, does that mean we only get to encounter more village idiots? And how do I know that I have not morphed into one myself?  I know neither of the questions are true, but back then I asked them often enough to remember them now.  Next . . . MMORPG’s Evercrack – Horizons – City of Heroes.

6 comments:

  1. Good post Padre. The one thing that I learned from this most recent incident is that there are more good people in the gaming blogosphere than bad.

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  2. I agree. In part I think it may have to do with the age and overall maturity of the members of this community. I’ve been impressed with the handling of this latest attack on a community member. I also think the shield of anonymity is slowly slipping away due to technology and the fact that less people are hiding behind goofy screen names and a false persona. Being punitive and totally asinine carries greater consequences when you are called out of your little cave.

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  3. Oh, one hidden benefit from frequent attacks - your skin does get thicker and mocking the antagonist is both fun and defuses the situation for yourself as the target. It might make the jerk unhappy, but he/she was already that way.

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  4. spot on padre

    AOL Chatrooms... what memories. Ack!

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  5. Heh. This stuff was happening back on CompuServe's old CB service in the mid/late 80s, although it was a bit less nasty. Back before the "September that Never Ended", most of the rage was nerdrage over Star Trek TOS vs. TNG and shit like that. I miss those days, actually, where a good flamewar was a work of art in words and debate versus the nastiness now.

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  6. I hear ya Chicagowiz and thanks Tenkar!

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