August 17, 2000
SecraTerri Version 5.0

Countdown to Son #Only: Two Hours!

SecraTerri is five years old today.

Like most five year olds, she expects (and will likely throw a very noisy, very public tantrum if she does not receive) at least a modest amount of attention and *hoopla* in honor of this fabulously momentous occasion. She is particularly fond of Aplets and Cotlets, gift certificates, vanilla perfume, groovy fountain pens and subscriptions to Yahoo Internet Life! Magazine.

Unlike most five year olds, SecraTerri is actually either twenty-five or forty-two years old, depending on whether you're talking about *cyber years* or *chronological years* ... computer time or non-computer time ...

... virtual life or real life.

(Confused? Just wait.)

Five years ago I sat in my office and flipped that coin between AOL and Prodigy. I think, often, about how very different my life would be today if it had landed Prodigy-side-up.

The subject of my cyber evolution/addiction/romance/recovery has been addressed, in endless mind-numbing detail, elsewhere on this website. I don't want to beat it to death ... I don't have time to beat it to death right now: we're due at the airport in an hour and a half ... but it's a topic that's very near and dear to my heart. Especially today, on my *cyber birthday.*

Therefore, before we go pick up Son #Only, a few quick thoughts on what I've learned online the past five years.

Stuff I Have Learned
About Cyber In General
(And AOL in Particular)

  • Time moves differently in cyber.

    Everybody I've ever discussed the subject with has their own theory about this. The most commonly held wisdom: one month of cyber time equals five months of "real" time.

    Say you've been on AOL for five months. In "real" time, that would be two years and one month. Or say, like me, you've been on AOL for exactly five years today. (Have I mentioned that today is my cyber birthday? And that I am particularly fond of Tobler Chocolate Oranges and Elizabeth Berg novels?) In cyber time, that equals three hundred months, or twenty-five years.

    There are lots of variations on this: the *one year equals two years* theory ... the *six months equals a year and a half* theory ... the *I haven't been outdoors in thirty-seven days: what month is it, anyway?* theory. But there is one thing we all agree on:

  • Time moves more quickly in cyber.

    One day you're a newbie, nervously typing your first *hello* in a chat room; the next day, you're dividing up the room into Cyber Limbo Teams and exhorting everyone to type in Neddersassisch. ("Dat mit-maken bii Lowlands-L koestt niks!")

    One minute you're tinkering with your AOL profile; the next minute you're posting photos of the inside of your refrigerator on your brand-new website.

    One night you're flirting with somebody in the chat room; the next thing you know, you're mailing sappy Hallmark cards to a P.O. Box three time zones away.

  • Give some thought to your screen name. The rest of us have to LOOK at it, forcryoutloud.

    I have zero tolerance for unimaginative screen names.

    I am especially intolerant of screen names with numbers in them ... ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, all initials, stoopid misspellings, bad abbreviations ... or any screen name containing the words "Sugar," "Muffin," "Hot" or "Cutie." These screen names, to me, indicate an appalling lack of imagination, taste and appreciation for cyber culture.

    (The only exceptions are my children, my mom, my friends Mizzle and Chriss, my pal SugrQTMuffin3278, and anybody who has ever loaned me money in the past five years. The rest of you should be ashamed of yourselves.)

  • There is only one chat room in all of cyberspace.

  • It may seem like there are bazillions of chat rooms. But there is actually only ONE, recycled over and over again. 

    Think I'm kidding? Go into your favorite chat room tonight and take a look around. There's the Queen Bee, right? Front and center, typing vague, languid sexual come-ons in a faux Southern accent? And all of her mindless horny cyber drones, swirling and drooling around her? And over there is The Class Clown, and The Surly Antagonist, and The Clueless LOL Person, and The Popular Guy ... and they're all doing that silly {{{{{hugging}}}}} thing, except for The Antagonist, who is telling everybody to fudk off ... and somebody is filling up the screen with those stoopid ASCII "balloons" ... and somebody else is doing the faux .wav file thing ... and there is much ROFLMAOPIMPing, and much snorting of liquids out of noses and onto keyboards, and lots of cute chat room :::giggles::: and emoticons and song titles in lieu of actual conversation ... and people are still saying {{{goodbye}}} to The Popular Guy five minutes after he's left the room ...

    ...  and now go into another chat room. Quick. Any other chat room, anywhere online.

    There they are AGAIN!

    Queen Bee! Mindless Drone1! MindlessDrone2! Mindless Drone3898347! Class Clown! Surly Antagonist! Clueless LOL Person!

    {{{{{Popular Guy!}}}}}

    They're wearing different screen names, of course -- they don't want you to know that you've stumbled onto the Great Chat Room Conspiracy -- but it's the same group of people, Isweartogod.

  • If he tells you he's "separated," run like hell.

    He's not separated. He's sleeping in the guest bedroom. There's a difference.

  • My thoughts on forwarded e-mail!

    I have one rule about forwarded e-mail.

    (You know the kind of e-mail I'm talking about: the jokes and anecdotes and quizzes and virus warnings and urban legends all about Nieman-Marcus cookie recipes that make the rounds of the Internet a gazillion-bazillion times and wind up in your cyber mailbox, routed through 43,897,621 other people, before they finally get to you?)

    Here is my rule: Send that stuff to me and I will kill you totally dead.

    Again, there are exceptions. My children. My brother-in-law. Tom English, from my fourth grade elementary school class. Anybody from Cosmopolitan magazine. Roy Orbison, if he ever decides to stop being dead. Matt Lauer.

  • Never send somebody else's photograph to a brand-new online acquaintance and claim that it's you.

    ESPECIALLY do not try to pass off a photo of your thirteen-year-old daughter as yourself ... even if she is wearing sunglasses in the picture, and even if the photo is really really blurry. I guarantee that it will come back to bite you in the butt, every time. Present your true face, right from the beginning.

    (Oh, and speaking of photos? If your new online beau sends you a blurry photo of himself wearing a baseball cap? He's losing his hair. OK? Just thought you should know.)

  • The *filtering* feature on the AOL message boards is the greatest innovation since the Buddy List.

    I can't even begin to tell you the amount of wasted time and needless aggravation this fabulous new feature has helped me avoid, the past few months. Now I open up my favorite message boards and I know I'm only going to see posts written by the groovy people. (Good writers with something to say ... not-so-good writers with something to say ... good writers with absolutely nothing to say, but you read them anyway because they're so good. And absolutely no "poetry.")

    My only complaint? You can only filter 25 names at a time.

  • Meeting your *soulmate* online is not only possible, it's easy! Especially if you follow these foolproof steps!

    1. Develop an irresistible screen persona: cute screen name/cute AOL profile/cute .gif, ready to upload at a moments' notice.

    2. Spend lots of time in the chat room, offhandedly talking about how uncomfortable your bra is.

    3. Cultivate as many behind-the-scenes flirtations as possible. Five is good. Ten is better. (More than fifteen and you might accidentally call one of them "Bruce," when his name is really "Mike." Then you'll have to spend the next ten or eleven i.m. conversations convincing him that you call him "Bruce" because he reminds you of The Boss.)

    4. Pick the two or three most entertaining flirtations and create unique screen names for yourself, just to use for chatting with them. They will think you're doing it because of their vast reserves of incredible specialness and studliness and stuff. Don't tell them you're doing it so your *other* boyfriends can't find you.

    5. Fall deeply, desperately in love with the MOST unsuitable person in the bunch. Make sure that he's married, for one thing. Make sure that he's got children, preferably one or two of them still in diapers. Make sure you have a minimum of a thousand miles and two time zones between you. Open a sneaky P.O. Box, one in each city, so you can inundate each other with letters and Hallmarks and snowglobes and little books about seagulls. Buy lots of phone cards. Put his wife's screen name on your Buddy List, so you can track her whereabouts. Have furtive phone sex occasionally, whenever the spouses out of town. (Pretend to enjoy it.) Fly off to meet him, wherever and whenever he suggests, even if it's half a world away. Come home after each trip feeling devastated. Sleep with his bar of soap under your pillow. Cry a lot. Make your entire family miserable. Leave your family and make everyone even more miserable. Believe him when he says, "I'm going to go talk to the lawyer next week." Believe him every time he says it for the next two years. Try not to die when he takes his wife to France for her birthday.

    6. Decide that there is no such thing as a "soulmate," and that all men suck, and that romance is stoopid, and that true love is just not something that's ever going to happen to you. Publicly announce that from now on you're going to dedicate yourself to your sobriety and to your work and to your writing and to your children and to your new website ...

    7. ... then two months later fall madly in love and move to California to live with the gentle, perfect cyber guyfriend who has been there all along, and with whom you SHOULD have been in the FIRST PLACE, and live ridiculously happily-ever-after with him in ant-infested bliss.

BTW. Have I mentioned that it's my cyber birthday today?

And that I am especially fond of Polaroid film, Penguin Caffeinated Peppermints, new boxes of watercolor markers, and chocolate-almond biscotti?

two years ago

throw a rock