Confessions of a Cyberaddict

cyberaddict1: I’ve been away a bit too long and I’m overeager to get back. It always takes too long to connect, especially when I’m itchy like this. Then I’m in and it’s like a warm bath. Not the full womb immersion like you get in SF but it’ll do for now. It doesn’t take long for me to forget my body, my hands moving unconsciously until my movement feels telekinetic. I take care of some business, slipping inside my friends minds and planting messages that they’ll pick up later. Then with my excuse for coming here over, I drift for a while, enjoying my invisibility, my freedom of movement.
cyberaddict2: Yeah, I always start researching something vaguely useful, but as link follows link, I’m soon out to sea, with no choice but to go further on, deeper down. The choices seem random but something in my subconscious leads me to weirdness. Strange sites and communities of people who could have spent their whole lives thinking they’re the only one, if it hadn’t been for this space, that flips and wormholes us together.
cyberaddict1: I always find myself wanting more. I always want to make a connection. I log into Chat under one of my false identities and look at what information I’ve got to picture others from. All the usual ways of seizing someone up (appearance, voice etc. ) are stripped away, and I project enough when I have those.
cyberaddict2: Sure. With nothing to go on but a carefully chosen pseudonym and profile, fantasy goes crazy. From tiny clues I imagine identities to fit the names, a collage of people I know on the outside, stereotypes and my own desires. I lurk, reading the conversations going on without me, watching how senders optimise self presentation, how receivers idealise senders. I drift into and out of a few chat rooms, most are very cliquey, and it’s impossible to tell what people are talking about.
cyberaddict1: Yeah, everything is in code, abbreviated, strange references, mostly to present and not-present members of their group, become like poetry.
cyberaddict3: game synopsis is scant, yes, but I can work with it.
cyberaddict4: ep miff cam
cyberaddict3: lol
cyberaddict4: spots a miffsie
cyberaddict5: ish teasing huma with sweet chilli crisps
cyberaddict3: ty the tasmanian tiger
cyberaddict4: wb blade
cyberaddict5: wb
cyberaddict1: I float on, looking for somewhere I can fit in, with text that I can make sense of, and interact with. I wonder whether anyone registers my presence as I enter a chat room, watch silently for a while then leave. Was someone just about to talk to me? Have they talked about me after I left? Were they not saying anything interesting because I was there?
cyberaddict2: Yeah, this kind of space makes you paranoid, you know you can’t give too much information in case some kind of crazed stalker gets after you, so you watch everything you say. This makes you feel as if everything you say is a lie, even if it’s something you really believe, and you get the guilts. You also know other people are probably not being entirely honest, and if someone is saying everything you want to hear, they are probably trying to get you to do or feel something for their own purposes. Also, because you get so little information about others, every detail achieves significance.
cyberaddict1: Chatters overreact to whatever is said, become attracted to someone from a few words of description, launch into a violent tirade after a slight disagreement, ‘laugh out loud’ at the slightest joke. It doesn’t matter because you never have to face any consequences: you only have to leave the chatroom and everything is solved, you can even change your name and go back for more.
cyberaddict2: Do you ever go in those rooms that are like role-playing games?
cyberaddict1: Yeah, the elaborate characters and systems of behaviour seem completely alien if you stumble into them. Complicated introduction posts, coded actions and emotions, and out of character messages are all jumbled together.
cyberaddict6: makes her way to the bar tying back medium length chestnut hair
cyberaddict7: his tail squeezes hers as they rub together
cyberaddict6: smiles and takes a glass of wine “I’ll take a small portion of the beef”
cyberaddict8: enters w. a warm breeze
cyberaddict7: o O (nice pic Foxy)
cyberaddict9: the lights blow out the wind grows stronger the door breaks down a shadow walks through the door fire blazing behing him he stands…
cyberaddict1: It makes my head hurt after a while, and I have to move on. When I find a room to stay in for a while, I find myself trying to analyse the other names in the box. I try to imagine them all from their pseudonym, idly clicking for personal profiles if I’m intrigued, but they give little more away. As I read the talk, I find myself putting people into categories: the type that (tries to lure others to disclose information / naively gives too much away / controls the conversation to make up for inadequacies / is only interested in cybersex). Some are not typing anything in the main area – are they just a silent watcher like me, or are they having a fascinating private conversation with someone?
cyberaddict2: I know. Outside I try to treat everyone as an individual, but here I’m pre-judging habitually, thinking badly of people I’ll never meet, being drawn to people from the slightest connection. I feel perfectly comfortable about doing all this, I’d usually feel self-conscious about observing people, but here I feel invisible, without inhibitions. This is true even if someone starts to talk to me: I don’t feel as if I have to answer back, and if I choose to, I usually say more (whether it’s friendly or insulting) than I would in ‘real life’. I feel safe, protected by a false name, unmeasurable distance, and the screen. Complete freedom, complete lack of responsibility.
cyberaddict1: It’s like a dream that you can change and wake up from whenever you want. It’d be perfect if only there wasn’t the nagging feeling that there’s probably something more useful I should be doing, that outside reality is actually more fulfilling, despite – no, because of – having to face up to my actions. But, maybe in a little while, I’ll just check out one more chatroom…

© April 2003 (Originally published in a.a.s. maga-zine #1)

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