Cybersociology Magazine: Issue Five

¿Roam-Antics on the Cyber-Horizon
or
Home-wrecking for a New Millennium?

By Judy Hempel AKA Judygod


From the beginning, I've been a cyberographer: studying the social and psychological aspects of cyberspace, tracking the anthropology of virtual reality. We've pushed past the phenomenon of Dungeons and Dragons, role-playing in MUDS (Multi-User Dungeons) online, and even the more respected discipline of computer-mediated communications. Cyberography is now a real science taken seriously on a global level.

Still, there is something magikal happening that can't be explained by scientists or scholars. And the magik is being brewed in thousands of chat rooms on thousands of servers throughout the world, and in a new form of "pen-pals" called electronic messaging or email, and in ongoing conference threads where people discuss common interests. Some of these folkes are coming together in this invisible realm and forming lasting relationships, mostly for friendship, but occasionally for more.

I was astonished when one of my best online buddies announced she was pairing up with her cyber-boyfriend in real life. Just a few months previous she'd gone through a horrible cyber-stalking ordeal with a guy she was nuts about. I admit, he was a real looker and I never would have guessed she was in any real danger. I was wrong. And when it finally looked like we could all let down our guard again, she announced her impending marriage to a fellow she had been chatting with for over a year before she met her handsome stalker. His support during her ordeal was the catalyst for their own romance. They are married now and a living testament to the concept of happy endings.

Within another few months, I was even more taken aback to realize that my twenty-five-year-old daughter was in love with a man she had never met in real life in another country on another continent. She'd never been good at relationships...she was what many people would call "picky" and there didn't seem to be a mate for her in either this locale or lifetime. The star-crossed lovers spent over six months in GeoCities' Lovers' Lane chat, day and night, until I finally took the computer away from her and gave it back to its rightful owner, another daughter (who doesn't use the Internet, thank Goddess!!!). But instead of growing apart, they wrote letters, phoned each other, until one day I watched my daughter and little granddaughter get on an airplane and fly away to rendezvous with my future son-in-law.

Try to imagine the criticism I got from those I dared to tell. "What kind of mother are you? Letting your daughter run off like that!!!" "Do you have any idea how many nut cases there are out there???" Finally, I made an online statement and quit talking about it. The reaction I have gotten has been mixed, leaning heavily toward having me committed but I've learned not to care what other people think ... and for good reason, which I will disclose in a future paragraph.

I've been on the Internet for five years and the World Wide Web for the last three years. I've shared my thoughts in newsgroups, forums, bulletin boards, chat, email, and on my various homepages. But what I've always liked the most is response from and interaction with other netizens. Without feedback, input, dialog and debate, this would be a complete waste of time for me. I have met and become friendly with a great number of people I would otherwise have no contact with: people all other the world, people from different cultures and backgrounds, and people with similar interests and/or experiences. Most of these relationships are casual and intermittent but there are a few individuals I would mourn losing touch with. They have become my friends.

Over a year ago, I began corresponding with a fellow who liked my homepages and dared to tell me so. I was flattered and felt both encouraged and empowered. We were both married and busy in our own lives but we kept in touch and our friendship grew. Within a few months, his marriage broke up, he moved, and I kept living the life that I was expected to appreciate. The problem was, I didn't appreciate it and I didn't want it. I began entertaining the notion of walking away from the big house, big bills, and the "nice guy" I was married to. THAT is when I opened up to the possibility of an alternate reality. But it took another six months, once I was receptive to the idea, for my relationship with my online friend to develop into more than mutual admiration.

For the most part, I don't expect the average person to understand why I left my home and most of my family to go somewhere I'd never been before to be with someone I had never met in real life. But I realized that my daughter's experience was both the inspiration and the impetus I needed to take my own advice: to follow one's heart, wherever it may lead, and to take responsibility for the consequences. Don't worry about what your parents or children or neighbors or church fellows will think. Are you living your life for them? Or are you living your life deliberately and fully, responsibly, brightly, brightly, and with beauty?

I've been told recently that I'm fooling myself, that "real" relationships are not built in cyberspace. I've been called crazy and irresponsible. But those who know me and truly love me don't say such things. They say that as long as I am happy, they are happy. Which fits into my schema of what love is supposed to be all about! "Love designates a subjective condition in which the welfare and happiness of another person are essential to one's own happiness." (Dr. Jubal Harshaw in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, by Robert A. Heinlein, p.284)

And now, coming full circle, it's time to debunk the myth that humans are so stupid that a digital environment could influence them and cause them to behave irresponsibly. If anything, cyberspace is an empowering frontier that allows us to explore possibilities and create our own realities...literally. It is a meeting ground for kindred spirits to discover their own potential and grow closer with others of their same ilk. It creates the opportunity to take what we have learned from our experiences and role-playing and apply them to the game of life.


UPDATE - TWO YEARS LATER...

As far as I know, my friend in Oklahoma is still happily married; my daughter and granddaughter are still in Caracas, Venezuela but we’ve lost touch and I need to hear from her; and bobgod and I are still honeymooning in the bunkhouse.

I’ve gone back to college and am working part-time at the Prescott Newsstand, a really cool place. They are just converting to computers and I get to do tons of data entry.

If you would like to share your personal story, please pay a visit to http://forums.delphi.com/m/main.asp?sigdir=judygod and help me kick-start this forum for roam-antics.

 


Judy Hempel (aka Judygod) [ judygod@judygod.com ] is currently attending Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona. Her future plans include transferri ng to another university so that she may study for a degre e in Psychology with a minor in Cyberography.

 

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