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onlinefriends_img2The Internet and I go back a long way.

Not to the beginning, but at a time when you could actually go to the bookstore and buy books containing “online sites”. Yes there was a time that online sites numbered in the tens of thousands and not tens of millions.

I soon discovered that there was a thing called “IRC” which stands for Internet Relay Chat. It’s actually still in existence and there are claims that worldwide millions still use it.

Basically you downloaded a MIRC program, attached to a server and entered the realm of make-believe. Virtual “rooms” were created and then peopled by anyone who happened to have an interest in the subject matter. While many were no doubt benign, “Quilter’s Corner”, many if not a whole lot were sexually oriented.

It gave birth to a whole new genre of talent called “virtual sex” where folks paired off in whatever couplings that suited them and publicly “wrote” out their sexual encounter. Meanwhile all sorts of conversations ensued in the room, having everything, nothing, or nearly nothing to do with the sexual “story” or “stories” that were unfolding. The text went by in a blur, and there were also ways to have private conversations while participating or watching the main room.

Some rooms were sexual by name, but never had any sex, people just talked back and forth, making jokes, and so forth. Channel operators controlled the room, having the ability to “kick out” people who were disturbing the peace and fun of the rest. Pictures were sent back and forth from individual to individual, music segments, and so forth.

I was a participant in one and for a couple of years, spent a lot of hours talking. I got to know a lot of people very well. I later met some of them.

But we all knew that lurking in any room was the possibility of a fake. A fake was person who pretended to be other than they really were. Oh  I don’t mean just fatter or balder, older or something like that, but gender benders were common. Men who pretended to be women, and I suppose the opposite.

Since we got to know people over a long period, it was fairly shocking to discover when you had been taken in. One guy talked to a woman for months, sent her mail. They were “in love” and planning to marry. He went to surprise her at her home, in another state for her birthday, only to be met by a husband at the door. She later explained, that it was only “pretend”, and she hadn’t meant any harm. Well as he told me some months later, it sure harmed him. He sat in a hotel room alone for several days waiting for his return flight, completely broken.

In our room, there was one girl who was the “life” of the party every night. Always fun and friendly. After months, one night a man claiming to be her brother came in and informed us she had been killed in a car accident. He had discovered “the room” on her computer while packing up her things to remove from her apartment.

Some weeks later we learned that “she” was a he, and had been simply gaming everyone from the start.

There were probably not a lot of these folks. As I said, I met quite a few, and certainly talked to more on the phone. There were conversations of others getting together and obviously groups didn’t get together to engage in this display of pretense, so most people were legit. (People organized meet ups for weekends across the country were a “rooms” participants would get together.)

One always wonders why people do this.

I hadn’t thought about it for a long time. My husband and I first met through “newsgroups” on the Internet, moved to IRC and then met. But all that happened within about two months. That was nearly 15 years ago.

Today I ran into an article entitled “The Weird Reasons Why People Make Up False Identities on the Internet” and that got me curious again. Most of the stories in the article are about people not engaged in chat so much as using the Internet and the capability of false personas to improve their own bottom line. Others are more curious, involving much time to invent and continue. Why would someone create a young girl with cancer and then have her die? Why a lesbian reporter in Syria who gets arrested?

I remember the “girl” who turned out to be a guy from IRC. I remember the “memorial room” we set up and gathered at to remember her. I remember how angry we were when we found out.

I guess I’m missing the pay off to the liar. I still don’t get that.

But I will tell you one thing. A number of those people were mighty fine folks. I remember them to this day and the one’s I met were the same in person as online. I often wonder what has become of Sayten and Angus, of Jules, and Floppy. Maybe they are still there. But I doubt it.

Funny how an article triggers such memories of times so long ago. What weird memories. Now the fake Facebook personality is common I guess. I still don’t get the point.