The 8th Deadly Sin

by R. James


Am I getting old? Am I becoming like my father in terms of how children should behave? Am I trying to define or even figure out the 90's standard of right and wrong for the 90's children? I'm talking about children and internet chat rooms.

Hey, I was born in 1949, the end of the war2 years, one of those baby boomers, or whatever silly labels the media gave us then. I barely remember the 50's, somewhat of my parents playing Glenn Miller (great music) on the 75rpm or early Elvis (not a fan) on the 45's, but really grew up in the 60's and 70's as I remember that well. Yes, I tried marihoonie, but didn't inhale, (sure, Bill, hee, hee). I wore Neru jackets and bell bottoms, and even briefly owned a psychadelic head shop (well sort of) inside a small teen dance club called "Crow's Nest East" in St. Clair Shores, MI, before being inducted into the army in 1967. I came out of the military unscathed and went on with my life.

My first introduction to computers was when I was around 16 years old and got a "Brainiac" computer that consisted of a wood board and six wood wheels that you'd screw all of these nuts and bolts onto and wire it up to provide answers to great questions like "how much is 2 + 2". My set up usually answered "5". OK, so I wired wrong, but I learned to fix it!

Flash forward to the 90's. I first got a used Commodore Vic-20 computer at a Model Rail Road Show Exhibit in my town and many nights I sat typing the long codes to play games or run programs, then to lose all the data when I had to shut it off for the night. I purchased a tape cassette that saved the codes with it, but then I found a Commodore 64 at Kay-Bee Toys for the right price and started into better fun with the online BBS's in my area that allowed me to leave messages, email and download great software for my computer.

I moved up to a used Commodore Amiga computer in 1993 and really got smokin' online with GENIE and COMPUSERVE online services. It was there that I learned more about the power and the fallacy of chat. I once met a woman in GENIE chat who lived in Buffalo, NY, and we got along fine online, then we'd meet in person and got along fine. But when we were away from each other things got strained. To make a long story short, we gave up on that long distant relationship, didn't work for us. So it went downhill from there when it came to chat room relationships.

Moving to the present, I started doing websites for myself and other people (still on my Amiga) in the last three months, but I have to use the computers at my local county library to view the pages that I create on the Netscape browser to see how they look. I have to sit there in the library with 7 other internet computer work stations around me that allow local people to access the internet and I have to endure them being annoyingly close. (Yes, I'm a grump).

OK, I can endure a lot. But I have to frequently sit surrounded by children who look like they should be in school at that time using the computers to go... well who knows where as I don't look over their shoulders. I have to endure these 90's teens talking to each other out loud in the library (a sin in my day) about how they are online in a place that sells bongs (whoa, flashback dude) or in chat rooms where they talk with 40 year olds who say they are 15 year olds (I know because a strange 43 year old male sitting next to me told me he does it in the chat places he goes to). I have to endure the children I watch, giggling around me, saying about how someone online just said to them, a 15 or so year old, that they loved them and wanted to marry them, ya sure.

I went to the library one day and there I saw a child about 6 or 7 years old taping on the keys and writing down something on paper that she felt was important, but she wasn't exploring or learning on the "net", she was in chat. I'm sorry but chat is fine if you are mature enough to handle it, but when I see teens chatting with post-teens (ok, old enough to not be fraternizing with teens!), that makes me mad. But it's not just the teens who are in chat, I see much older and seedier looking people typing away in chat rooms with who knows who. I can't see what they are typing but after spending many hours in chat myself, I do know what can be found there.

My library only allows you one hour of use on the computers twice a day which makes it hard for me to get my work done and then to be rushed off by some giggly 14 year old girl who wants to get online in chat for an hour. There are people who use those computers as a source of information and learning, but they are usually the adults and not the kids who should be learning. There are movies that are rated so a teen can't get in without an adult (IF the theatre enforces the rule) and I know that chat can be an XX-rated experience, so why doesn't the library say no unattended children? The guy at the reference desk told me he has seen parents use the library computers as a babysitter by dropping their kids off alone and they head straight for chat.

I'm not saying chat is evil, I have met and made friends with many nice people online and it hasn't corrupted me, but I have also met the opposite type of faceless people who say they are onething they are not. I do have many many hours late at night in chat rooms from my home computer with people from all over the world and it is a unique experience. I guess I'm just getting older like my father and worrying about this generation of kids and wondering who may be preying on them. My sixteen year old son goes into chat from his computer and I don't sit watching him type, I just hope he is careful, but I know he's a smart kid. I just hope the parents of those children in chat at the library brought them up to know right and wrong, but we sometimes learn the hard way, don't we.

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