Life With Online Friends

Katana asked an excellent question today about internet, online friends and parents. I feel it deserves a full-on SomeGuy "Wordy Bastard"(TM) treatment...

Hey guys, I hope you all had a good weekend. I just got home a little while ago from Washington State, I'm tired and I'm not quite ready to get back fully into the swing of online work (and I've plenty, though granted Adam's done an excellent job of monitoring Fan Words while I was gone - thanks a ton, Bossman!). Katana's question caught my interest big time though, and I'm glad I caught it before it was pushed off the first page here. This whole thing about "Web 2.0" and networking sites is an extremely important one, and it's something not enough people really fully understand. Keep in mind, when I say people, I mean everyone: both parents and their children.

The internet's a dangerous place. It is. That whole "40 year old pedophile" thing wouldn't be such a typical internet concept if it never happened. Now of course I'm not saying that it happens a whole lot out there especially considering the millions of people online in the world daily... but it most certainly does happen more than it really should. Do parents have a right to be worried about the online safety of their children? Absolutely.

Do they need to be on-edge death-grip worried all the time? In my experience, no.

So here's a quick recap of my online history:

Our house got wired up when I in grade 9 or 10 back in '98 or '99. Prior to that, I had used the computer's 56K modem to play games of Doom, Duke Nukem 3D and Warcraft 2 with friends, but with nothing near the ease and elegance of today's gamers. In any case, once we had access to the internet I quickly learned the ropes, got a hold of ICQ (an IM program I clung to for years even after everyone else switched to MSN) and even eventually built up a simple Angelfire website to post random things (including some of my earliest writing works).

Through all that, I never put out any of my own personal information out on the 'net. No one ever had to tell me, I saw the news stories myself of girls posting their pictures online, their school/class information and then finding themselves followed around by stalkers and other undesirables. I refused to be that stupid.

I declined all ICQ contacts I didn't know; I never posted my name or my picture on my Angelfire. Hell, even though I knew that only my friends were looking at my Angelfire, I still kept personal info to a minimum. If they didn't know me, the most they would ever get was that I was probably a high school student, I was obsessed with Star Wars, and that I lived somewhere in Canada.

During this time, I did make one out of town friend with a girl in Hawaii with the screen name "Pixie". We both had some mostly random Angelfire websites (though to be honest I can't remember how we found each other). In any case, we commented a lot on each other's sites. After maybe half a year (or maybe even a full year) we exchanged ICQ information, and eventually even traded first names and maybe one or two pictures. In any case, at some point in time she had a phone card on her and asked me for my phone number, and for about ten minutes we chatted on the phone about... pretty much nothing. In actuality, I was actually quite uninteresting back in those days and I think I actually spent most of that phone call describing the competitive eating thing I was watching on TV at the time. In any case, phone card ran up, call disconnected... and for better or worse, "Pixie" and I more or less lost track of each other (whether it was her getting away from the loser that I was or just her general losing interest in Angelfire, I'll never know).

Did I tell my mom about this online friend of mine? Not really. It wasn't that I was trying to hide the fact that I was chatting with girls on tropical islands or anything - more so, I just kinda felt like it wasn't important either way. We were just casual friends, not even very close, and we happened to read each other's writing now and then.

Did "Pixie" actually live in Hawaii? Damned if I know... she probably did, and going by the voice I was speaking to it's probably safe to say she was indeed a teenage girl... but in any case we never got to the point where I ever really needed to really start worrying about anything. So with "Pixie", by the end of high school there was one person outside of my local-types who knew my first name, my hometown, and my phone number.

Thinking back, I won't say it was stupid of me to be so free with a phone number (certainly wasn't an impulse decision, I'll say that much)... but yeah, I won't deny that things certainly could have been a whole lot worse. But like I said, "Pixie" and I lost track of each other, so we never had to worry about anything more beyond the present time.

Thinking back now, though, I do wonder how she's doing... anyway, so that was my high school life online...