I have a confession. I am an internet junkie. Seriously. I probably need a 12-step program. Unlike Al Gore, I do not believe I invented the internet, but I have had an internet problem for a long time now. I established my first email address through the ubiquitous America Online in 1995. I still recall a time when I knew only three other people with internet capability. We would email each other, feeling quite superior for being hooked into the World Wide Web before so many others. We reveled in sending each other photos and waiting the 15 to 20 minutes while they downloaded through our phone line, one pathetic color line at a time until the image was fully revealed. It was like Christmas every time one of those photos actually came through.
I made my first online friend in 1996 through an internet pen pal site. I matched up with another internet addict named Barb. I watched her son grow from a 6 year old to a college student, all online. We shared our daily lives via email and became friends. I did eventually meet her in person, as well. And yes, I am sure she is who she says she is and not an internet predator or a cross-dressing male (actual name: Bob) parading around cyberspace as a female. These days, Barb and I continue to keep in touch through the internet, where we still discuss music and the hazards of raising children.
In 1998, while in graduate school studying technical writing, I took a course called “Hypertext.” One assignment was to create an online identity by developing our first personal web site. I made the most ridiculously basic site that was graphics-heavy and took mind-boggling amounts of time to load. It even had some of those then hip, animated gifs on it. That web site taught me several valuable lessons, one of which was that sometimes messages we put on the web don’t come across as intended. My vapid identity web site caused a falling out between me and a college roommate, who was a bit sensitive about the photo I posted of her cat. She was upset enough that she stopped speaking to me. Lesson learned: not everyone likes seeing themselves (or their cats, apparently) online.
My obsession with the internet, my family can attest, has been an ongoing struggle. It has spawned many an argument. Unfortunately, it has only gotten worse since I kicked my PC habit and became an Apple user. I discovered there’s a reason they call you a “user”; after I discovered the MacBook which, at least in my case, would have been more aptly named the CrackBook due to its habit-forming properties, it was a short trip into an even more problematic addiction, the iPhone. Now my family and friends travel with me 24/7, provided that my AT&T coverage holds up. I will admit that I have taken my iPhone camping and been saddened that I did not have enough signal to check my tweets on Twitter. I’m all for roughing it, but roughing it gets a lot rougher for the folks around me if I have to go a couple days without 3G communication.
My husband, tired of trying to communicate with me through more traditional methods such as actual conversation, has occasionally sunk to my level just to get a point across. He has honestly been in his office, a mere twenty-five feet from where I normally perch with my laptop, and sent me an instant message to ask me a question. He texts me all day long. We have played Scrabble online together while in the same house too. I’m sure this all seems quite sad, but in many ways my twisted habit has been helpful. It’s a lot more difficult for hubby to fight with me if he has to express his bitterness via chat. You see, he’s not the world’s fastest keyboarder and, when he learned I could not only out argue him in person but could instant message quick circles around him as well, he simply gave up arguing with me. The lack of arguing combined with our mutual belief that “sexting” is a poor substitute for actual sex has left us with a reasonably happy marriage.
So, my internet infatuation continues. I have googled myself. I have accounts on Yahoo, MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook so I can keep up with friends. I currently have four separate email addresses. Every time I decide to stop spending so much time online, something draws me back in. I think it’s that the internet is a perfect place for an introvert like me. I feel safe when I converse in this virtual world. I’m invisible, but not.
My mom feels the internet is ruining interpersonal communication because we are so tied to our devices (or is that merely “vices”?) that we don’t interact with other humans anymore. But, I disagree. Because of the internet, I converse daily with friends I previously talked to only occasionally. I also have friends from around the country whom I never would have met otherwise. I’ve reconnected with people who knew me eons ago...before the internet even existed (gasp). And while my mom is correct that perhaps we don’t spend as much time actually speaking to one another as we used to, through my rose-colored glasses I choose see that we have merely spawned a new epistolary age. True. Some of our notes to each other are very short, but we’re still writing and reading and I find that encouraging. Either way, I’m continuing to enjoy the ride on the information superhighway just like a dog with its head out the car window on the open road. I just hope no one schedules an internet intervention for me anytime soon.