To our surprise, this column ended up being quoted by Leslie Miller in a USA Today column.

Dear Ann, Get Wired

Tales From The Bitstream

Jeff Schult and Nicole Chardenet

News Item: Ann Landers devotes several columns to people whose marriages have been endangered by one partner or the other running off into cyberspace after finding their electronic soulmate. The 80-something columnist concludes that the "technological geniuses" have created a monster.

Dear Ann,

Jeff--> We were going to start this off "Dear Ann, You Ignorant Slut," but concluded that was unduly harsh and probably less scrupulously accurate that we, as Responsible Media Representatives, care to be. So: Several lashes with a wet mouse cord for you, dear heart.

Don't get us wrong, Ann. We LIKE you. Like millions of other people, we look forward to your no-nonsense advice to writers that range from criminal sociopaths to U.S. Senators. OK, so maybe that isn't such a wide range, but we DO like you. But USUALLY, when you don't know what the hell you're talking about, you get some advice yourself. From Experts. This time you didn't, so we're volunteering.

Nicole--> The media is obsessed with all the sensational aspects of cyberspace : the perverts, the pedophiles, the Horny Net Geeks, and the adulterers. Apparently the sorts of things Jeff and I, and millions like us are doing is too boring for newspaper space. We make lots of interesting new friends. We research the most obscure tidbits of information on the Web. I practice my French with a guy who lives outside Normandy, I track down obscure music albums I can't get anywhere else, and Jeff plays bridge with people in real-time all over the world.

In fact, contrary to the stereotype that says people in cyberspace have no lives, we wonder about all the people who fall asleep in front of the TV set every night and call that having a life.

Jeff--> For the record, Ann, we met in cyberspace, in 1992, a little before it became fashionable for people in the media to poke and prod the Internet and take its temperature. We have built a loving and responsible relationship since then, we didn't split up any marriages to do it, and we are glad of electronic meeting places, because without them the chances of our meeting were close to zero.

Nicole--> And this isn't just a Generation X thang, Ann. Our friends Snoops and Geobyte met on an early version of the electronic bulletin board, a pre-Internet cyberspace hangout, in 1986. She was 45, he was 50. They talked on and off as casual friends, talked on the phone, and the relationship developed shortly thereafter. They fell in love before they met personally, and each says the other was exactly what they expected when they finally met. They've been together since 1987 and have been married since 1991.

Jeff--> We KNOW you don't spend time in cyberspace, Annie. There is no "Ann Landers on the World Wide Web," no "Dear Ann" email address. You're a Snail Mail kind of lady. And concluding that electronic chatting is a menace to marriages based on the anecdotal evidence of your mailbag is a lot like Ronald Reagan concluding that welfare recipients all drive Cadillacs and own six television sets just because he heard about one who did.

Nicole--> Our friends Cowboy and Michelle met in Fidonet, the same place we did, and got engaged. We just recently attended an Internet party where a bunch of us from Connecticut finally got to meet the faces behind the noms-de-plume, and wee met a few more happy couples who met in cyberspace. We suspect, Ann, that your readers and their cheatin' modems would have found ways to mess around regardless of whether they had computers or not.

Jeff--> Cyberspace is untraveled territory for you, Annie. We, for instance, don't know much about Tennessee. So when we meet someone from Tennessee, do we treat them to a lengthy soliloquy about inbreeding, rednecks, bad music, outdoor plumbing and moonshine? Well, of course we do, but they know we're kidding. Usually.

That's OUR anecdotal evidence, Annie. But wait, there's more. Because we actually get around in cyberspace, and don't have to wait for yahoos from Tennessee to write us that their husband is leaving them for a Presario with an ISDN line in Cleveland. We can watch them do it.

Nicole--> Last summer we got friendly with a lovely couple on-line, only to have them both disappear when the wife ran off with another guy from the same channel. It wasn't pretty. But we suspect cyberspace isn't the problem-unhappy marriages and uncommunicative partners are.

Jeff--> We're betting that pretty soon, when someone does a national poll on "Where did you meet your spouse/significant other," that cyberspace is going be a measurable response.

So wake up and smell the damn Java, Annie!

Jeff and Nicole, who don't talk smutty with cyberstrangers and who think Ann Landers should get wired, can be reached at jeffbot at this domain. You might run into them in the supermarket, but the odds are against it.

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