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by Brick Walters, 2/25/00

Dc: A recent study conducted at the Calvin Coolidge Community College Center for Communications Communities revealed the not very startling news that people who spend a lot of time on the Internet are not "fun to be with." Brick Walters reports.

Brick: At a meeting room in the basement of a library in Palo Alto, California, a group of strangers has assembled for a rare "in person" meeting. The first thing I notice as I enter the room is how strangely silent it is. Two hundred people, and not a word being spoken.
A woman in a scientist's lab coat walks up to the front of the room and taps on the podium.

(sfx: footsteps approach, then tap tap tap)

Professor: How come you won't speak to each other?

(sfx: small hubub)

Professor: Go on … talk, TALK!

(sfx: mild hubub)

Professor: For pete's sake, look at each other, will you?
(disgusted) This is hopeless.

Brick: (vo) Professor Danielle Perry and her team at Coolidge Community College have assembled this group from a list of visitors to one Internet chat room. In theory, at least, the visitors have some prior knowledge of each other. But when they're together in the same room, physically, they seem to have a profound lack of interest in deeper relationships.

Professor: You … what's your screen name?

DirtyPapa: (wimpy) Me?

Professor: Yes, you. Of course you!

Uh … I'm … uh … (clear throat) DirtyPapa.

Professor: I'm sorry, what was that?

DirtyPapa: (louder) I'm DirtyPapa.

Professor: And, DirtyPapa, have you been a regular visitor to the Fun and Frisky Friends Internet Chat Site?

DirtyPapa: Uh … yes.

Professor: And all these people were contacted through that very same website. Well? Wouldn't you like to meet them?

DirtyPapa: (sigh) Not really.

Professor: (to group) Clap your hands together if you've ever received a lewd, suggestive, or outright vile message from DirtyPapa here.

(sfx: heavy, sustained applause)

Prof: Well, well, well. Been quite busy, have we?

(sfx: applause out)

So it seems you all have some things in common.
Now mingle, mingle, mingle!
(pause) Well, why are you just sitting there?

(sfx: low murmuring)

Brick: Twenty minutes later, the meeting broke up and Dr. Perry declared it an unprecedented success. In light of her exasperated performance, I had to ask why.

Professor: That was an act. I was trying to goad them, to test their resistance to social interaction. They proved my theory, which was that people who spend more than four hours a day on the Internet are totally lacking in social skills. Even when we get them together in one room … they are intimidated by the physical presence of other people, and are clearly No Fun.

Brick: (vo) This week, Dr. Perry's report was officially published, and it's controversial conclusions are already being challenged. One Internet denizen who agreed to be interviewed for this report is Gabby Incommunicado. This 33 year old software engineer hesitantly agreed to meet me at a local diner, if we sat at a booth in back.

(sfx: diner)

Gabby: I'm on the Internet … all the time. And I have lots of friends. Many more than I had before e-mail existed. It used to be I would go weeks without talking to a person. This has really broadened me, socially.

Brick: Have you met these friends up close?

Gabby: Oh no, no. Never.

Brick: Wouldn't you like to? Wouldn't it be refreshing to see them … to sit down and share a meal … talk all evening … watch a movie? Play a game of darts? Or something?

Gabby: I don't do any of those things. I like to keep … (alarmed) who's she? She's coming over here … tell her to get away!

Brick: Who?

Gabby: (beside himself) What does she want? Make her leave!

Waitress: (fade on) What can I get you guys? Anything?

Brick: Uh, I'll have the soup of the day and a cup of coffee.

Waitress: And you?

Gabby: Unghghg.

Brick: He'll just have water.

Waitress: You guys wanna sit at the counter? This booth is for three or more.

Gabby: Unghghg.

Brick: If you don't mind, my friend would really prefer sitting here.

Waitress: (fade off) What do I care, it's only tips …

Gabby: (sigh) So she was an employee?

Brick: Yeah. You don't eat?

Gabby: Not formally. I'm on the Internet all the time, so I snack.

(sfx: diner fade out)

Professor: This is typical of what we found. There's a social scene on the Internet, but it's a mile wide and an inch deep. They know each other. They know screen names, at least. At most they know a few personal details that may or may not be true …

Brick: Details like … ?

Professor: Are you male or female? Things like that. And as a result, they don't know how to have a human relationship without the computer as a go-between.

Brick: That's so terribly sad! What does this mean for the future?

Professor: Computers will have to get more sophisticated. The online experience will feel more like face to face, physical proximity.

Brick: But the computer will still be there … an interface?

Professor: Yes … and more people will use them as their primary avenue of communication. And all those people will be No Fun, and we as a nation will become No Fun.

Brick: (vo) A frightening prediction … possibly not true, but what if it is?
Are we ready for a world where all of us are No Fun and the only way to create and nurture a friendship is through a computer? And will the computers ever decide to develop their own friendships … without us?
Out in the field … I'm Brick Walters.


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