Welcome to Planet IRC
Just like the World Wide Web, IRC is a potent, wonderful, and occasionally terrifying place. Says Mike Kear, the keeper of the Aussie site mentioned earlier, “IRC's a gigantic series of networks of people chatting in real time. Sometimes there’s up to 10,000 people chatting in 3500 channels or more simultaneously. There are several networks, all of which are spread around the world, and you could be talking simultaneously with a US serviceman in Saudi, a Swedish university student, a salesman in Des Moines, Iowa who is picking up his e-mail in his hotel room, and me, a self-employed computer consultant from Windsor NSW Australia (near Sydney), who ought to be doing something else . . . Here is where it happens, on your screen, while you type. You make friends and meet people from all over the world INSTANTLY!”
The major wonder of IRC, for those of us who are into instant gratification, is its speed. Depending on one’s typing and reading abilities, it can be almost as quick as having a telephone conversation. Go to any channel, type “Hello!”, press enter, and within seconds, a dozen people may respond in kind, and the party begins. And of course, the only cost is the monthly fee charged by your ISP.
By the way, this is what a typical IRChat looks like:
<pawn> any ladies wanna chat? 22/m
<Bar> Single man, looking female *
* laughin1 hi^5's Ky
<Nickee> WOW LOTS OF PPL
<miracle1> that was pretty cool laughin one..
<aAvIruS> Die Barney!
<laughin1> Bar, cut that out please this is not #pickupzone
* Ky pokes laffin1 in the tummy
<feb22> hi alll
* laughin1 grins at miracle1 .. sorry, couldn't resist
Gibberish abounds on Planet IRC. Between lag time, people who speak English as a second or even third language, and the teeming masses, wanting to be heard above the crowd, conversations can sometimes be hard to follow, particularly in rooms with more than a few people or so. But it’s all part of the fun.
An Alien Is a Friend I Haven’t Met Yet
The other thing about IRC that is enchanting and petrifying at the same time is the tremendous diversity of the people who are drawn to it.
One of my new cyberbuddies is Aja, a 17-year-old Iranian-American girl born and raised in Wisconsin. She is a typically headstrong and stubborn teenager. However, her rebellion is manifesting quite differently than it might in other teenagers. Instead of wanting to get her tongue pierced, Aja yearns to move to Iran. We have had long IRConversations about this which typically end in a stalemate. I remind her of our mutual cyberfriend Pedram, an Iranian who lives in Canada now. At age 14, Pedram was sentenced to death in Iran, because he was vocal about his dislike of the Islamic government. At age 15, he was placed in front of a wall, and a firing squad shot around him for a full ten minutes. “At the end, I was leaping for the bullets,” he told me on IRC.
Aja will do what Aja will do. The good thing is that she has found a support group in the Persian channel on Undernet, filled with caring people who know, firsthand, the answers to any questions she may have about life today in Iran. Such groups are plentiful, filled with people whose woes might match your own very closely. Tonight, for example, I skimmed the 721 channels on Undernet with six or more people on them. I found, among others, channels for #diabetes, #aa, #al_anon, #depression, #aids/hiv+, #abuse&healing, #IRCaddiction (don’t laugh!). There’s even something called #math (“Hi, my name is Joe Bob and I am geometrically challenged!”)
There are channels for narrower fields of interest, too. Kama’aina may be interested in #hawaii, #hawaiihale, #philippines, #chinesecafe, #ilocano, #mormon, #porto, #porto2, #portugal, #portugalia, #viet, #manila and #japan, just to name a few. If you are from other parts of the world, you may find a channel for your country, your state, even your hometown. Other channels with topics of general interest are #mensa, #gardening, #quiltblock, #cajun_cafe, #scifi, #weather, #poker, #disney, #poetry... and the list goes on and on.
Beware the Dark Side
My new cybersensei Nero, a seasoned denizen of Planet IRC, recently warned me, “You should be as suspicious of everyone here (in IRC) as if they were burning crosses and shouting obscenities in the streets.”
In the short time I have been an IRC user, I have come to agree with him. Even some of the channel names are enough to terrify and repulse the most jaded souls, and what goes on in them, I’d rather not know. Consider #amateur_wife_pics, #skinhead, #kkk, #snuff_sex, #nude_celeb_pics, #zoosex, #bondage. As Nero says, “A lot of pathological mindsets find free reign here.”
He’s right: thousands of people come here to trade kiddy porn. But still thousands of others come here to simply find a friend. If you wear your heart on your sleeve in the real world, guard it well in IRC. Hide your identity and your gender, until you are certain that you are not talking to a wacko. Your nickname (your IRC “handle”) should be asexual, and not your real name. Call yourself CuteGirl and you will be pounced upon by trolls - cruising cybersex fiends with the worst of intentions.
Imposters abound, because online, a person can be whatever he or she wants to be. Nero told me, with the voice of experience, “Folks get taller, skinnier... little lies grow. The next thing you know, you’re chatting with a lawyer, or a supermodel, or both.” And stories are beginning to proliferate, on the news and in the papers, about IRC love gone bad.
But oh, this medium is so powerful. Emotions are concentrated and focused and discussed intensely, and soulful confessions and protestations of love are made to people you might not even talk to if you saw them on the street. One of the most intriguing and bizarre phenomena in Planet IRC is the growing popularity of cybermarriages, formal ceremonies online, some of which even have cyberushers and cyberbridesmaids. I’ve spoken with several people who have found love here. Some have spouses in the real world, and never actually meet their cybermates. Others find each other online, develop a bond, and then meet, in person, in real life. Some live happily ever after, some go their separate ways, and stories are beginning to proliferate, on the news and in the papers, about IRC love gone bad.
“Potent” is too small a word. But if this sounds like the chunk of cyberspace you’ve been searching for all your life, join me next month and I’ll show you how to build your own rocket. Destination: Planet IRC!!!