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Illustration by Ignacio Rodriguez. Different fonts, different colors, the words whiz by, everyone's screen name sounding vaguely pornographic. I'm on America Online, in a chat room for young adults. There are hundreds of such chat rooms on AOL, and it has taken a lot of Net navigating simply to find one that has room enough to let me in.
For all the crowds and clamoring, there's not much being said in this chat room, or rather, not much that's being paid attention to. A year-old girl is talking about her baby due in two months. A grumpy year-old guy reluctantly wishes her well. Another girl, 17, asks, "Are your parents cool with it? I've been on line, off and on, for months trying to determine if there is such a thing as a cyberself and, if so, what goes into the making of this most modern of personality constructs.
Teen-agers especially are fitting specimens for this experiment because they are the first generation saturated in this new medium. In any given week, according to Teenage Research Unlimited, nearly 70 percent of all to year-olds go on line. The Internet has shaped them -- just as television shaped their parents, and radio their grandparents.
Once a generation saw itself grow up on TV; now a generation is watching itself grow up on line. It would follow then that the 31 million teen-agers of Gen Y or Generation Why or Echo Boomers or Millennials, as this group is variously called, would have completely new ways of perceiving one another and themselves. I went undercover as a cyberteen to find out. Teen-age years -- at least in my memory -- are reserved largely for Cyber chat older women out different personas. As the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson contended, adolescence is a period "during which the individual through free role experimentation may find a niche in some section of his society, a niche which is firmly defined and yet seems to be uniquely made for him.
Camille Sweeney is a project editor for the magazine's Millennium issues. Herein lies the thrill of the on-line self: its malleability, its plasticity, the fact that it can be made up entirely of your own imagination. You can take your old self, or don a fresh one, and hang out in a group of jocks for a postgame chat, argue the banality of Britney Spears with an international posse of pop connoisseurs, post a note to a cool-sounding guy from Detroit -- all without ever having to leave your bedroom.
Maybe this is the Internet's greatest asset to teendom: access, and the confidence to slip in and out of personalities, the ability to try on identities, the adolescent equivalent of playing dress-up in the attic, standing before the mirror in heels and lipstick long before you own your own. March I'm on line as Red, a cumbersome screen name that I believe, nonetheless, sounds teen-age blunt and allows me gender flexibility. I've been slow to get started.
In fact, I really haven't said much beyond commiserating with the pregnant girl, telling her that when my sister was pregnant Cyber chat older women found cocoa butter helpful, that it helped her skin feel "not as stretchy. For all the identity shifting that occurs on line, teen-agers tend to talk in a uniform way that leaves me scrambling. Not only is it teen talk -- it's 90's teen talk.
I have to think to remember "girl" not "woman. A crew of teen-agers suddenly bursts into the room crying out to get it on: "Want 2 cyber? Want 2 cyber? The crew is ignored, washing over the room like a tide, before heading back out to sea. I chat with a Croatian teen-ager about obscure Scandinavian death-metal bands. He says he is He writes that he has never heard of them. I struggle to remember their big hit but realize I'm dating myself in doing so.
I suddenly feel out of place, as if I'm wearing a thick turtleneck at a summer rave. Someone new has just entered the room, looking for love. May The Internet has been compared to a fun house, a free-for-all, a place where you might be robbed or cheated or deceived, a place where you can be promised a rainbow but given a mouthful of ashes.
I spend a lot of time cruising E-zine sites for teen-agers and connecting to the ever-multiplying of hyperlinks a lot of the Web s offer. The randomness makes me dizzy. But in fact, I manage my first cyber-romance with a guy I meet a series of links away from a surfing site. He calls himself Brian--the--Hawaiian. He has something like a million screen names on a million different sites. He tells me he is 16, from Honolulu, but wants to get out of there soon to come to the continental U. We chat a few times, about waves and about whether the volcanoes in Hawaii are cool. I have to think to remember not "very cool.
Then one night, out of nowhere, he asks me if I want to cyber. He actually sounds serious! I say no, but agree to send him a kiss, which I do. I write something like "peck. Even though this is an experiment, and even though he says he's "crazy 4 older women" this time I've said I'm 18it still feels weird.
He tells me his favorite movie star is Austin Powers, though I don't have the heart to mention to him that Austin Powers isn't real. He also says that maybe he wants to be an actor someday, or a professional surfer. I tell him "2 go 4 it. I've told him I can see the bridge from my window. This feels a little too real. I tell him I have a boyfriend and say, "my boyfriend n i are planning 2 b 2gether 4 ever," and after I log off I begin to wonder if "Brian" isn't actually some year-old boy living two floors above me. This kind of access is new to me.
Are teen-agers all over the globe meeting up with their on-line pals in real life -- at concerts, in the second-class compartments of European trains? Are they surfing the waves together off Waikiki? I never hear from Brian again. August The measure of a successful site, an Internet entrepreneur tells me, is its "stickiness. I log on to the friendly blue-and-orange homewith features and bulletins, a quote of the day and a daily poll: "Would you date someone of different ethnicity?
I choose "camarules" as my screen name, ditching my letter-digit combo. Dan Pelson, co-founder of the site, is right -- if being on AOL is like driving your father's Oldsmobile on the Interstate, being on Bolt. Though there are plenty of other places for teen-agers to hang out on line, I spend most of my time on Bolt's bulletin boards. This is where you can post a message that either attracts a response or goes completely unheeded.
The success of a message depends on a lot of factors: the catchiness of the subject line, the popularity of the board and, most important, the general level of boredom of those on line. If people are bored, they'll check out just about anything. Some Ways 2 Chat on the Web Four sites that offer u chat technology:. And judging from my time on line, people are bored. Unlike a lot of the Boltsters, but like a lot of teen-agers, Baron Vampire doesn't really follow the topic being discussed on the board; instead, he turns the conversation back to himself.
And he seems to attract attention -- maybe because he's a bored vampire, maybe because the icon he uses with his screen name is a tiny bat, hanging upside down, blinking. I feel a maternal tug to respond, but I hold back, letting some of the girls on the board jump in to console him -- it would be like getting in the way of a tribal dance. Before long a group of female Boltsters have virtually surrounded the wounded vampire. Doubtless some are even using a private note system that only he can see.
After several messages of concern, Cyber chat older women vampire seems to Cyber chat older women up.
A girl who calls herself Cool--P2 is giving a party in an area marked Miscellaneous. It's got the feel of a younger girls' party -- too much soda, no boys. I look up the personal profile Cool--P2 filled out for Bolt: it includes things like date of birth, favorite movies, music.
She has written that she's Unlike many adult boards on the Net where everyone claims to be a teen-ager even when no one isthe registered members of Bolt, now approaching 1. Even if Cool--P2 is lying about her or his age, I think a party's a great idea. Imagine letting your kids go to a party and not having to worry what time they come home. Cool--P2 kicks off using the asterisks code, which means that anything written between asterisks is considered action as opposed to dialogue. It's like a scene from a screenplay or a little theater piece, written, starring and directed by teen-agers, each line added onto by someone else.
Good luck! You people are weiiiiiiiird! It gets later. I go to the Sex Questions board. A year-old girl wants to know if cybering with a guy she met on line is cheating on her boyfriend. There's a frenzy of response. One guy writes, "You're so stupid!! Cyber chat older women real problem is being discussed. A year-old girl writes: "My bf doesn't like taking off his hat when we make out.
I like to rub my fingers threw [sic] his hair but I can't with his hat!!?? How do I get it off??? A few days later, I meet Stifbizkit. His screen name's a rip of Limp Bizkit, a popular hip-hop rock band out of Florida.
Stif says he is 16 and posts a message on the Girl Trouble board; "popping the question" is his subject. He wants to know the sweetest way to do it: should he play a song, give her a letter or play a song and give her a letter.Cyber chat older women
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