By Joseph Altman Jr.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
ust when single people thought they'd be hanging out in bars and clubs for the
rest of their lives, technology saves the day.
On the information superhighway, people with any diverse interest can find people with similar hobbies to talk to and share ideas. Now, on a more personal level, computer users are finding places to share their thoughts when they are interested in something else Ä each other.
Occasionally, these Internet romances turn into real life relationships.
Tim Lang, an illustration senior, met his girlfriend on Prodigy, a commercial on-line service.
Lang began using Prodigy almost two years ago, and he met Claudine there five months later.
"We were just looking through notes on the music boards and I had written a really odd note and she responded to it," Lang said. From there, they began conversing via electronic mail.
"It wasn't anything we were looking for. We talked more and there was an instant connection," he said. Through coincidence, Claudine was planning to move to Arizona for graduate school. Three months later, they met in person for the first time. However, it was another four months before she moved to Tucson.
"It was like any long distance relationship in that respect," Lang said. Their on-line romance has turned into a relationship Lang described as "pretty strong."
"I think it was a real cool way to meet, but I wouldn't want to do it again," he said.
Even though anyone with Internet access can get in touch with people from around the world, commercial services, such as Prodigy, America Online, Compuserve and Eworld are more user-friendly. They provide users with "point-and-click" menus and graphics, instead of requiring them to use typed commands.
But Eric Huber of the Center for Computing and Information Technology said the only way to chat in real time without using a commercial service is through IRC, or Internet Relay Chat.
IRC is a chat program mainly available at universities and government institutions. It allows people to talk to each other live by typing messages on their computer keyboards.
The GAS system is the only computer system at UA with IRC capability, since IRC slows down a system tremendously and poses a security risk. In addition, IRC doesn't have the large number of users that can be found through a commercial service. On the plus side, IRC is free.
Cristin Murphy, a student at NAU, has been a member of America Online (AOL) for about a year, and has personally met some of the people she has discovered on-line, but never with the same success as Lang.
After talking on-line with a man from Tucson over a period of three months, the two of them finally met.
"I was much more comfortable being with him after I knew about him. I don't like blind dates. This was like seeing an old friend after a long time. You talk to someone and tell them everything, then you meet them and you feel real comfortable," Murphy said. Although the meeting didn't form a love connection, the two still converse on-line as friends.
However, another of Murphy's experiences didn't result in anything close to a friendship.
"I was on the computer playing around and this guy IMed me," Murphy said. ("IM" means "Instant Message," a way to talk one on one privately with another member.) "He was real nice and charming and he told me how I had a beautiful name and all this B.S. It was like I was in a bar and he was picking me up."
Murphy talked to the man on-line for over an hour. The next day, she turned on her computer and saw she had e-mail from him. But it wasn't from him, it was from his wife.
"She said how I was this horrible person and I should rot in hell because he has a wife and two kids," Murphy said. "I wrote back and said it should be his responsi
bility not to approach people if he's married."
Murphy said it's becoming difficult to meet people who are being honest on-line. From her experiences, 60 percent of the people on AOL lie about themselves, and the other 40 percent "reasonably" tell the truth.
"I've only met about two people that told the complete truth since the beginning, but that's okay, because sometimes I lie to them too," she said.
Anonymity is one factor that Murphy believes attracts people to the on-line world, but that also means it's dangerous to believe someone is the same in and out of cyberspace.
"It's real interesting because you could talk to people and be someone who you weren't really," Murphy said. "It gave me a chance to do a lot of things I wouldn't really do in person. I would be bolder and ask people stuff or say things I would normally be too embarrassed to say."
For a novice, logging onto AOL in the wee hours of the morning can be a dangerous thing, as most of the late-night crowd seems to be concerned with sex above all else. One might encounter "College guys 4 guys" and "Want hot female" as some of the chat room options on a Tuesday night.
Entering one of the chats on a Tuesday night resulted in an encounter with "Foxy Gina," a cybersurfer who lists her hobbies in her member profile as, "wonderfully strong and handsome men, gentle bondage, pleasure!"
The overwhelming number of sexual chat rooms has changed on-line services from a service aimed at children and education to a place where parental lockouts are available to keep young users from reading sexual advances.
"I think it's a problem for a lot of people and it turns a lot of people off of computer services like that because there are a lot of unwanted advances and it's extremely sexually oriented. But there are people on there who are not in there for sex Ä it just takes a really long time to find them," Murphy said.
However, a lot of people aren't too happy about the direction in which the chatting community is headed.
"It seemed like a different type of people are (on-line) now," Lang said about his last time on-line. "It does seem like people are after something different. If they want to go for some sort of cyber fling, that's their business."
Murphy said that the sexually oriented chats of AOL are "inevitable."
"Some of it is that married people and homosexuals can explore," she said.
On-line stalking has also become a concern of members of the on-line community.
By using a single command, someone on a computer system such as GAS can get a listing of all the other people who are on-line, including what terminal they are using if they're in a campus lab.
Often, this leads to a stalker initiating a chat, or a "talk" session with someone else.
Bert Vargas, a molecular and cellular biology senior, said he was stalked for several months by someone on BioNet, a UA network for biology students.
"After finishing up my bio homework I jumped onto the network and there were a bunch of people talking," Vargas said. "I was standing by watching when some unidentifiable woman was describing what I was wearing and coming on to me over the net. It was pretty frightening."
As he left the computer lab, Vargas said a woman followed him out of the lab and claimed to be a friend of the mysterious woman.
"The person started describing all these things that she and her friend were into and kind of asked me if I was interested," Vargas said. After replying with a "stern no," he received several e-mail messages from the woman.
Many commercial services have a terms-of-service contract that all members must adhere too. Any vulgar, sexually-explicit, or harassing language will result in a warning to the user. After two warnings, a person's membership can be cancelled.
On non-commercial systems, stalking cannot be controlled as stringently.
Huber says there are no controls on vulgarity on UA's systems, but personal attacks and attacks on race and gender are brought to the attention of a system administrator, who can terminate an offender's account.
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