Monday, December 28, 1998

Uploaded an article I didn’t publish in The Washington Times. I should’ve; me bad.  The article is reproduced below.

We also rescued the truck, so you needn’t worry any longer.

The Unthinkable
by Brent P. Newhall

A few days ago, I did the unthinkable.

I paid my Metro fees and I took the bumpy ride down to
the Rosslyn station, where I put on a garish cap and waited
to meet three friends of mine that I had never met before.
Friends I had made over the internet.

We had scanned in pictures of ourselves and traded
them, so we knew roughly what each other would look like.
And we had met over IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, so we had
had the advantage of “talking” live with each other.  We’d
spent over a year of chatting together, with many others of
course, but we knew each other pretty well.  Not face-to
face, of course.  But as I stood there on the station, I
didn’t felt nearly as much fear as what I saw in the face of
everybody I told about the planned meeting.

“Ohhh,” they’d say, “isn’t that dangerous?”

The internet is not populated solely with pornographers
and rapists.  Not even mostly populated.  Contrary to what
the media would have you believe, 99% of the people you’ll
meet on the internet are normal, decent, everyday people.
Everyone I know who’s been on the internet for any length of
time confirms this.

Which makes sense, really, once you sit down and think
about it.  Who do you know who is “on the net?”  How many of
them are sickos?  Very few, I’ll bet.  I did a quick test,
searching through my internet service provider’s (the company
that gives me internet access) list of newsgroups (a.k.a.
online discussion groups) and counted every one that
contained containing the word or sub-word “sex.”  I came up
with 22.  Out of 4,073.  That’s about half of one percent.

And yet every time you turn around you hear another
story about a child pornographer kidnapping a child after
meeting on the internet.  When in reality many of meetings
based from the internet go off without a hitch all the time.
Dozens meet in real life.  You never hear about that.

But, of course, it’s because that’s not news.  News is
all about death, natural disasters, serial killers, and yes,
child pornographers meeting their victims on the internet.
I wonder when we’ll start hearing about the lasting
friendships that have been made over the internet, the
comfort received in troubled times, the many ways that people
have reached out across the internet to touch others deeply.

As for my meeting, as I stood there I was approached
rather nervously by one individual who turned out to be one
of my good friends.  We shook hands warmly and chatted as
another sidled up and proved to be another; the third didn’t
show up.  So the three of us chatted amiably, had a very
enjoyable two days together, and went home, resolved to urge
more of our IRC friends to come along next time.

Who knows?  Maybe by then, people will understand.

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