Tuesday, July 19, 2005

It all started in an AOL chatroom

it began in a room lit during the day by sunlight through three windows, by the blue-white screen of my friend's first computer at night. he took the week off. we rotated on and off the AOL chatrooms in shifts - napping, working, and eating around the silent hum of his over-heating hard drive.

only the rooms have changed since then. now, i'm in a coffee shop sitting behind a laptop and a smoking cigarette, wired into the internet via a wireless network card and my headphones. surrounded by people, yet still in a different world - i can hear their them laugh and chat through the beats in my head, but i am not a part of it - i'm in the room, but unavailable...leave me a message and i'll get back with you. this is after the AOL chatroom craze.

i sat for an hour staring at this computer screen trying to think of a way to start this post, realizing typing out an introduction is as easy for me as initiating a conversation with a supermodel. at least on screen i can backspace my way out of hundreds failed conversation-starters. in the original AOL chatrooms, it was as easy as a simple "hi...". but, those rooms now employ electronic strippers with shaved wormholes waving porn-site hyperlinks in front of your face.

when i left my home behind five years ago, i took my AOL screenname with me and braved the chatrooms in the bedroom of my first apartment to "meet" any one. i'm a shy person. i don't meet new people...i just can't do it. the internet lets me hide behind a keyboard and allows me to see what i say before i actually say it. now, two weeks before i return to the home i left behind, i no longer have an AOL identity. i do, though, have a MySpace personality. that is not a link to it. that is a link to a story on Kuro5hin about the simplicities of MySpace and its users.

i'm sitting in a coffee shop on fry street in Denton, arguably the second-best college bar-strip in the state of Texas (second to 6th Street in Austin), writing this post on my Firefox browser - three tabs, my gmail inbox, this post screen, and my MySpace home page - and i feel completely at-home - it's not about interacting, these days, it's about being seen. you don't have to be "available," you just have to be accessible - cellphones, instant messengers, blogs, text messages - they are all forms of this media mentality.

within the scopes of these media, we are adopting anti-social personalities. not multiple personalities for an entire culture, but numerous personalities within each person. we interact differently through each media. we adopt different faces and expressions - emoticons - and different looks - avatars. we're taking our selves and putting them into text and computer graphics. i'd like to think all the walls we're putting up to distance ourselves from each other somehow makes it easier to be honest with each other.

my love for AOL in the beginning stemmed from this separation, though, i couldn't label it then. naively, i thought it was because it didn't matter what you looked like. appearances were only as different as the default fonts and colors AOL offered. you could say whatever you wanted. you could lie and no one would know. maybe profile pictures remove some of the mystery. or, maybe they replace it with intrigue. the truth remains, however, that we longer hide behind screennames.

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