Even though I don't really know a damned thing about it, I had to write an
ARTICLE about IRC in about a HALF a DAY (crisis deadline situation) for
Internet Underground mag, where I have a column now to replace the
departed Mirsky. You'll have to buy the magazine to read the polished
version (which is half as long) but let's just say these are the "notes":
AVOIDING CHAT ROOM TRAUMA (long version)
Rev. Ivan Stang
Remember the first time you logged onto a "chat room" crammed with 25
people all typing much faster than you can even TALK, but in Martian? And
being barraged from all directions at once with helpful suggestions
couched in seemingly insane gibberish? And then just when you thought you
had a clue, five new windows spontaneously stacked up on your screen, as
five different people sent you private messages, while twenty different
sound effects chirped and bubbled madly from your speakers? And you
suffered pure sensory overload and a panicky feeling, like your home was
being invaded by crazy people?
And you never tried it again?
In the unprepared, IRC can produce ever-accelerating, snowballing levels
of confusion. But some folks get a "rush" from that confusion, just as
some people enjoy jumping out of planes or having themselves lashed to the
back of an enraged bull.
Once you get used to the medium, it can be highly addictive. Like a cross
between conference calls, shortwave radio and email, it's ideal for
hobbyists and those too annoying to have friends in their physical
vicinity. And you aren't paying long-distance.
My introduction to Internet Relay Chat was like most people's these days:
recently, and starting with AOL. To millions of people, AOL's baffling
array of chat rooms IS the Internet. It's the first thing on the Net that
they saw, and, like a newly hatched duckling who thinks the first object
it sees is its mother, they haven't left it since.
Of course, everybody except the very rich eventually graduates from AOL
into the real Internet and its deeper, faster, infinitely more esoteric
IRC realms, where sentences are longer than three words and nobody
endlessly repeats the sentiment, "kewl."
This is where you encounter the dreaded hard core IRCers (rhymes with
lurkers and irkers). The minute you land in their midst they must show off
their respective bags of tricks and, using their impenetrable jargon, urge
you to do scary-sounding things to your computer's innards. (If they try
to "give you ops" don't be offended. It's not a disease; they're only
trying to share control over the room.) You think REGULAR computer geeks
are incomprehensible? You'll be hard pressed to find ANY English words in
use by IRC junkies.
They change their own onscreen names constantly. They use the "topics"
line at the top as a billboard of absurdist one-liners. They do these
tricks just because they can. They can run their spying eyes up the phone
lines straight into your computer and then announce to everybody else your
real name, your city, your server company, your computer model and your
shoe size. That can be a little disconcerting.
IRCers staunchly defend their addiction as being as "real" as real-life
face to face conversation, conveniently forgetting the obvious fact that
their noses cannot be punched over a modem. You will at first scorn them,
and then pity them. Eventually you will probably become one of them,
because, like a drug, one hit leads to another and the next thing you
know, you live for the hard stuff.
HELPFUL HINTS FOR RETAINING SANITY
1. DON'T TRY TO FOLLOW EVERYTHING BEING SAID
Be ready for way too many people "talking" at once, forcing the screen to
scroll too fast for readability, with half a dozen separate conversations
interwoven in a jumbled mess.
The easiest way to deal with this is to focus on just one or two people,
ignoring the rest. If you are seized with something to say, just DIVE IN
-- ignore ALL the rest, type and send happily away as if you were king of
the world, then sit back and wait for any reactions.
2. KEEP A LOG SO THAT YOU'LL KNOW IT WASN'T THAT YOU WERE GOING CRAZY
Most programs let you save all that text that's flashing by. Don't even
try to make any sense out of it while it's happening; come back to the log
later to decipher just what the hell they were talking about. Chat logs
can also be good for mining surrealism from chaos when, entirely by
coincidence, two conversations which actually had nothing to do with one
another, appear to relate in bizarre, synchronistic ways!
3. It might help to disable the sounds on your program before starting.
The tweets, clanks, rings and beeps that some programs provide can drive a
beginner tire-gnawing mad.
4. THE GLITCHES AREN'T YOUR FAULT
IRC is glitchier than the slower, more methodical and rational media like
newsgroups and email. A pigeon gets electrocuted on a phoneline in Peoria,
or somebody trips over a wire at a server in New Zealand, and suddenly all
your newfound buddies are gone from your life forever.
Go into it fully expecting that you WILL get hung up on, cut off, marooned
in the twilight zone with one or two other baffled individuals, and that
your gear will crash resoundingly, or all combined. 75% of the people will
suddenly disappear and you'll find yourself in a much smaller room,
wondering if you missed The Rapture. (This phenomenon is known by the
vaguely obscene term, "netsplit.") Or your server will rudely hang up on
you, but you don't know it, so you'll sit there blithely blabbering away
to yourself, wondering why everyone else is so respectfully silent.
When you're on IRC, the local access server that bills you is probably
routing you over to some specialty IRC server machine elsewhere.
Unfortunately, YOU get to CHOOSE among those servers. Worse yet, there are
more than one "Internets" in this realm. There's an Overnet and an
Undernet and a DALnet, each with their own chat worlds. And each server's
behavior changes from day to day, like a psychotic's. One that worked
great last night may be a bucking bronco tonight, pitching you off every 3
minutes. Or it may just keel over dead and disappear entirely.
DON'T try to understand it. That way lies madness. Just chalk it up to
sunspots. Face the fact that you'll have to keep somewhere (preferably in
the program's memory, not yours) a list of the servers that sometimes seem
to work half-decently.
5. NOT EVERYBODY WANTS TO TALK TO YOU
You may blunder into a place where they treat you like dirt, then shove
you out into the cold. Well, it's theirs.
6. LURKING IS SPOOKY.
At least have the common human decency to announce your lurkerhood
occasionally. ("Still just lurking... don't let me bother you...")
Admitting you're a newbie and grovelling some can't hurt.
7. EXPLOIT THE WEAKNESSES OF PREDATORS
If your name in any way indicates that even one of your body parts might
be remotely female, you'll get the inevitable "Wanna do some cyber?" To
that horny guy on the other end, the monospaced text font representing you
on his screen looks better than Marilyn Monroe. You can take advantage of
that. You might enjoy stringing the poor guy along. Tell him you're in his
city and that you'll meet him at the McDonalds near the Mall at 5 in the
If someone asks your age right off the bat, it MIGHT be a creepy pervert,
but it's probably just a teenager. It's distressing to a 17 year old to
discover that she's spent hours treating a mere 14 year old as an equal,
so they try to sort out the pecking order from the beginning.
8. You know how you can attach art files, games, etc. to email? That can
be done person to person via IRC too. It can scare the living daylights
out of you when unexplained files that might, in your paranoid mind, be
deadly viruses suddenly try to pour themselves into your machine. Usually
it's just that one of the IRCers is sending you, say, a sound file so
that when he types "I PUKE at you!," his puke sound emits from your box.
9. As with any Internet medium, substance abusers and mean drunks should
refrain from what at the time might seem like righteous flaming and
knowing gossip. A week later, you may well get a copy of it from a perfect
stranger, or your mom, and have your nose rubbed in it.
10. Avoid prolonged exposure.
Church of the SubGenius online devival services are held every Sunday
night at 10 pm EST on undernet #subgenius.)
Copyright 1996 by Rev. Ivan Stang / 1st Orthodox Stangian
MegaFisTemple Lodge of People's Covenant Church of the
Wrath of Dobbs Yeti, Resurrected / The SubGenius Foundation,Inc.
PO Box 140306 Dallas TX 75214 / Fax 214-320-1561 / PRABOB
http://sunsite.unc.edu/subgenius -- SubSITE of Slack