I'D LIKE TO start out by saying I have never done anything like this before. I don't know why I do it. I'm not antisocial. I'm not so fat I can't leave my apartment. I'm pretty much goiter-free. Yet the fact remains that I have been sleeping with prostitutes. Actually, it's worse than that. The truth is, I have been frequenting an online message board. Yes. And not just frequenting it, either - I'm dependent on it. I need it. If I spend so much as an hour without posting a remark, I get cranky. After a day without a , I develop hives. God only knows what a week without my board buddies would do to me. I honestly think I might kill someone.
I know this sounds strange. I can see you all now, going or or maybe . But judge not, book readers and conversation-havers - I used to scorn the computer-generated social life, too, and now look at me. I've become one of those people who responds to a witty remark with an LOL ("Laugh Out Loud"). If something's extremely funny, I'll ROFLMAO ("Roll on the Floor Laughing My Ass Off"). Recently, I went so far as to ROFLMAOTSITRMT ("Roll on the Floor Laughing My Ass Off Thereby Sustaining an Injury That Requires Medical Treatment"). I mean, WTF ("What The Fuck")?
Not only have I become fluent in message boardese, I have started to nurture online relationships. I have exchanged personal information. Some of us have talked about meeting up. Recently, I phoned Jim, one of my favorite people on the board, just to say hi. "Hi," I said. "Er, hi," he replied. We sputtered our way through 10 minutes of ums and ahs before hanging up and heading back to our online salon, where we quipped and gossiped and bantered like we always do. The thing is, as Jim and I discovered, our friendship cannot bear the weight of actual human contact, even via a phone line. I shudder to think what would have happened had I ever spoken to SPOON, a woman upon whom, not so long ago, I developed a virtual crush.
At least I think she was a woman .
One of the obvious side effects of being a message-board junkie is that I have become reliant on these little emoticon things, especially when writing. After all, "I hate you " means something very different from "I hate you." And while some writers may recoil from the idea of conveying complex human feelings through simple graphics, we should bear in mind that the tradition dates back to ancient Egypt and beyond. Would the troglodytes have shied away from the one-click symbol for "Successful Hunt" had it been available to them? Did Euripides deride the mask of Tragedy? Of course not. Recently, I have begun to toy with the idea of writing a novel using emoticons, or applying them to the classics: "To be, or not to be "; "It was the best of times , it was the worst of times ." The possibilities are endless.
Even with face-to-face communication, I often find myself wishing I had an emoticon to back me up. Body language, as we all know, can be an ambiguous, slippery thing. Look at the Mona Lisa. What's she thinking? "Good joke"? "Come and get me"? "I poisoned the leg of stag I made for supper"? Vagueness may be well and good in the arts, but when I want instant, unequivocal nonverbal communication, only an emoticon will do. I honestly believe that had a smiley face or two been available at the UN a few months back, the war in Iraq could have been avoided. As for myself, I plan on making a set of oversized emoticon flash cards, so I can react to poor restaurant service with a , maybe walk up to a woman in a bar and do a or a .
That's if I ever go to another bar.
The thing is, my online social life has everything I could wish for. There's tenderness: "My condolences to you and your family." There's ribbing: "Chris, you are one dumb mule." There's fighting: "Of course I was insulting you, dumbfuck." There's flirting: "I got all dolled up for ya ... red silky panties & matching bra." There are confessions: "I shit myself at work yesterday and had to throw my boxers in the garbage." And there's outright weirdness: "Yeah, I don't shave my balls either."
Best of all, we can do this free of consequences. There are no diseases to worry about, no bar tabs to divvy up, no questions about where we'll meet or who's invited. We can sit around in our undies, zits on our faces and our hair in tatters, and make like we just stepped off the runway at a Prada fashion show. If people annoy us, we can put them on IGNORE. And when someone gets truly upset - when there is pouting and ranting and maybe even the threat of violence - we can simply post a placating and get the hell out of there.
What we cannot do, however, is truly know one another. This fact was made manifest recently when a handful of the board's most prolific and disparate posters - male and female, frivolous and grumpy - turned out to be the same person. There were lots of s that day.
Sometimes, I think about leaving my board buddies for good. They take up too much of my time. They keep me from my real friends - those I can see and touch, those I can be sure exist. Over the last few days, I've been thinking about how I would title my goodbye thread: "It's been fun"; "I'm outta here"; "Good luck!" It's going to be tough, but I'm determined. Indeed, in recent weeks, much to the chagrin of my fellow regulars, I've been visiting the board less and less frequently. Maybe a goodbye thread won't be necessary after all. Maybe I'll just fade away.
A few moments ago (for the purpose of this article, of course), I took a quick peek at the site. In one thread, Jim, the board's "token homo," has written: "Len with the enormous penis just walked past my desk. I swear it has got to be 13 inches," to which Loki, an inveterate quipster, has responded, "Wow, that's a small desk." Above this, I posted a . With this simple, silly gesture, I had managed to convey a surprising number of things: amusement, a warmth of feeling for both Jim and Loki, and, most important, the tacit assurance that I won't be going anywhere for a while.
Chris Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the message boards at www.itshappening.com.