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

morning.

 

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