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January 18, 1991 - Image 8

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1991-01-18
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0

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COVER STORY

MT~
by Julie Foster
The thought is
overpowering, the temptation
too great. Suddenly... the
person makes a quick detour
into the nearest computing
center for a quick fix. An
MTS fix.
Like an addictive drug,
more and more people are
flocking to computer centers
to engage in conversation with
others through the Michigan
Terminal System (MTS). But
can peopletmaintain a normal
social life through MTS? Is it
a good idea to spend a great
portion of time communicating
through a computer screen?
Despite its many uses, most
students at the University use

:Ma
Czapla said she originally
started using MTS for
"sending messages to friends
who didn't live in my dorm."
She said sending MTS
messages is more fun than
telephoning because, "It was a
different medium." Now, two
years after she began using the
system, she estimates she
spends twenty recreational
hours a week on MTS and
participates on eight different
computer conferences.
Engineering sophomore
Amy Neilan said, "On
weekends I'll just go over [to
the computing center] and talk
to someone [over the
computer] for five hours or
so."
Invented by Robert Parnes,

.ssive

Transco

J

Jan1019l 00:08
12:41) Resident Alien: Daisy: Welcome back. The flirt item has been lonely with out
you, one of my favorite flirts. I hope that you have found nobody else in my long
absence from m:ses of old.
Jan10)91 00:10
12:42) Daisy: Resident Alien: I have missed flirting with you too. And no one yet has
come close to fulfilling my desires. Would you like to try?
Burn Baby Burn!!!: Ooohh, was that wink for me? What exactly is it that is burning,
anyway?.
Jan1091 00:14
12:43) Resident Alien: Daisy: Ah! I would be more than happy to fulfIl your desires.
However, can you promise to keep that death ray away from me? I like to please, not
plead. :)
Jan10/91 00:15
12:44) Burn Baby Burn!!!: Ooooh, yeah. Body, mind, you name it. I'm on fire with
arousal.
Jan10/91 00:18
12:45) Daisy: Resident Alien: Well, as long as you don't give me a reason to useit.
That's right, just be a good boy. Be a very good boy.
Burn Baby Burn!!!: Wow, you sound really... hot!
Jan10/9l 00:20
12:46) Burn Baby Burn!!!: Hence the pseudo. I'm on two years of abstinence so you can
believe I'm hot.
Jan10i1 00:29
12:50) White Cat: Red Storm Rising: My claws are for caressing, not for hurting...
Resident Alien: IF I am female? I didn't think it would be that hard to figure out... Burn
Baby Bum!!!: you sound like you need cooling off... cats give baths with their tongues,
you know...
From Meet:Students, "The Flirt Item"

for people to meet and get to
know each other via the
computer. However, many
times students just send
messages to people that have
interesting names.
MTS includes a feature
which allows a person to see
the names of everyone else
who has an account. Each
person with an account may go
by as many as ten different
names, many of which are
usually pseudonyms.
Neilan said she "looked up
names and said 'hi' to someone
who had an interesting name"
in order to meet people. One
of the more distinct names she
can remember was "Plastic
Surgery Disaster."
Likewise, Czapla met
people the same way. "I'm a
really big Prince fan and
someone registered as Prince,
so I sent a message to him,"
she said. "I met about five or
six people through him."
While the University
policy on pseudonyms allows
each person only ten, LSA
junior Jon Van Oast said one
person found a bug in the
program and registered 36
pseudonyms for himself. "I
kind of pestered him until he
told me how to do it," he said.
Van Oast estimates he now has
approximately 86
pseudonyms, and he once had
a girlfriend with 305.
"It became a big buzz on
MTS," Van Oast said.
"Eventually the MTS system
programmers found out and
they erased all of her names.
Maybe they just wanted to
make an example out of her."
He still has all 86 of his names.
"They fixed the program so
you couldn't do that
anymore."
The pseudonyms people
use in place of their names can
often be misleading and elicit
responses from others in
interesting ways. Names with
sexual connotations often
receive much more mail from
strangers than other types of
pseudonyms.
"I used the name Miss
January, and I had a lot of guys
messaging me," Neilan said.
"They were all thinking
'Playboy centerfold."'
Van Oast used the name
Cocaine Sex as a pseudonym

after a song he liked by
Renegade Sound Wave. He said
many people didn't even
check whether he was male or
female, and he received dozens
of messages from both.
"I wouldn't be surprised if
people sent messages to all the
people with sex in their
pseudonyms or any names that
are slightly sexual," he said.
Most of the messages, he
said, were sexually suggestive.
He received one saying, "Talk
about having your cake and
eating it too," and another
saying, "Forget about the
coke; let's just have the sex."
"I'd get all these sleazy
messages and lead them on for a
while and it would become a
big joke."
Van Oast spoke of the
dangers of responding to
sexually suggestive messages.
Because the two people have
probably never met each other
in person, they really don't
have an idea of what the
other's personality is like.
"There are a lot of people
who are really going to harass
people with names (with
sexual connotations)," he said.
He has known women who
have men "come to where they
live or call them all the time.
Sometimes they will be just
raunchy or sick."
Joe Russo, an organizer of
the Meet:Students conference
last term, recognizes the same
problem with direct computer
correspondence. He said many
women send him messages
complaining about men
harassing them over the
computer. "There's men
called the MTS gigolos who
basically wait for any girl to
get on line and then just pester
the hell out of them."
Josh Simon, one of the
organizers of lgm:rap, a
conference "for the discussion
of issues as they pertain to
lesbians, gay men, and
bisexuals," said he doesn't
observe much harassment over
the conference.
"In three years of
organizing this conference,
there has been exactly one
person who registered to be a
gay basher," he said. Simon
said the person was later
discovered to have been a
student from Michigan State

University who was here
visiting a friend and using his
friend's account.
Each CONFER has student
organizers that oversee the
conference. They answer
questions and take punitive
action in the case of a person
abusing MTS or making
offensive comments. .
Organizers of conferences
have the ability to find out
anyone's name, so if a person
is harassing someone else, the
organizer can determine who
they are and take the
appropriate action. Russo said
he sent messages to one
"aggressive" man-both to his
real name and all of his
pseudonyms-requesting that
he use his real name in future
responses. "The main message
of it was I know every one of
your pseudos, and I know who
you are, so you are
accountable for what you
say.'"
Julie Smith, an organizer of
the Meet:Planners
conference, which supervises
the business aspects of the
conferences and also
determines Confer policy and
monitors problems, feels,
however, that finding out the
real name under a pseudonym
should be a last resort. "If
there is a reason why someone
does not want to be identified,
then that reason is valid," he
said.
The Meet:Students
conference has items both
serious and frivolous; these
items range from "catharsis,"
used for venting any or all of
your emotions, to items about
flirting.
In addition, there are many
other conferences devoted to
discussion of serious issues
such as current events,
relationships, and academics.
Russo said organizers of
conferences, "for the most
part... try not to interfere
with anything unless someone
does something really
destructive or says really
racist things or homophobic
things or something really,
really offensive."
"It's really strange because
I have the power to change
everyone's name to whatever I
feel like," Russo said. "I could
change all of their responses. I

P t
riput
could delete all of their
responses. I could kick
everyone off. You have all
these powers to do anything
you want to, basically, and
you don't use any of them."
Smith said she is unaware of
anyone who has ever been
removed from a conference.
Shesaid the problem of
harassment is not that of
Confer, but of its users.
"Usually when I see someone
on a conference a lot, it's going
to turn into a (problematic)
situation because that is the
only way they are
communicating. I think it's not
a good idea to confuse the tool
with the user," she said.
One of the main attractions
of MTS is the ability to say
anything and remain
completely anonymous. No
one can see what another
person using the system looks
like. Direct rejection is
unfeasible. Many people find
it is easy to open up when
typing into a computer
because no one is going to
judge them critically to their
faces. Some particpants feel it
is easier to start dating
someone after meeting them on
the computer because
rejection is less likely.
"Over MTS you can start
an anonymous conversation
with someone without
worrying about rejection,
whereas if you meet [someone]
in your class and start talking
to him he'll look at you like,
'Why are you talking to me?"'
Neilan said.
Czapla found first dates
with men she met through
MTS easier because, "You
already have stuff to talk
about. It makes things faster.
If you met a person outside
MTS you wouldn't learn
these little things about them
so soon."
LSA junior Jeff Weiner said
he has a serious girlfriend so
his friends consider him "the
relationship king."
"They would send me lines
from a converse. Then they
would want to know what the
[women] were really saying,"
Weiner said.
Meeting someone you like
through a computer before

meeting him or her in person
can pose problems, however.
Russo said one always has'a
mental image of others after
reading their comments.
"You get this really
beautiful picture of someone
and as open-minded as you
want to be... if you meet them
and they just fall way short of
that, you find out, 'Maybe I
am just a little bit shallow."'
"You might have a loose
physical idea of what they
look like, but it's almost
always different," Czapla said.
Van Oast agreed. "It's a
shock because you've had this
picture in your mind of
people and they almost always
don't look like what you
expected."
"For some reason, everyone
always pictures me as this
very excitable five-foot-six
guy who wears black or
flannel all the time," Russo
said. This is hardly the
accurate description of Russo,
who stands six-foot tall,
dressed in a simple, cream
colored shirt and khaki pants
with wire-rim glasses. His
demeanor is mellow, relaxed,
and calm.
Weiner compared
wondering what a person
talking to him on MTS looks
like to working at McDonald's:
"We used to play 'Guess what
the person coming through the
drive-thru looks like."'
Using MTS is much
cheaper at night, so many
people stay up late conversing
with others signed on.
"My friend met millions
and millions of girls that way.
He is an MTS stallion,"
Weiner said.
"It's like the pick-up bar of
the future," Van Oast said.
Russo described one of his
late-night experiences on
MTS. "One night it was like
phone sex. We started flirting,
and I started describing this
beach and we were doing these
things. We were kind of
creating this story together,
only it was getting really real.
I was sitting here panting at
this screen going, 'I don't need
this. I'm panting at a screen.'
Russo did eventually meet
the woman in person and said
only that it was a "nightmare."

Qrv%:A% C- ^trzh nt%^..t th.

ivieeing people tnrougn
MTS is an entirely different
experience from meeting them
in a class, on the street, or at a
party. Rather than making a
first impression based on looks
or mannerisms, the
interpretation is based
entirely on what a person
says.

11mi1spoKe aIout Lte
problem of taking responses in
the wrong context, or assuming
that the responses people
make on Confer are indicative
of their entire personalities.
"I know someone whose
potential employer had
reservations about hiring her
because of her responses,"

f

Item 68 14:16 Sep20l90 3 lines 411 responses
Nancy Leinonen
Catharsis
Here is the place for everyone to talk about the things that are bothering them, to get it
all out, so that healing can occur, or just to feel a little better. Catharsis...
Sep20/90 20:36
68:6) 'Joe:: There's this guy, see, and I just want to hunt him down and kill him. And I
want it to be very bloody and I want it to take a very long time. I want him to feel
violated to the very core of his being, and I want to tell him why. And I want him to
scream for mercy and I want to whisper,"No," into the bloody remains of his ear. And I
will enjoy it, every second of it, even though I traditionally have a weak stomach when it
comes to gore, I will revel in every moment of this man's torturous death.
Sep209O 23:10
68:?) [Name withheld]: Two days ago I had great news, and I had the whole feeling
come down when I realized I didn't have anyone special to share tha news with. I
realized just how dominating my current single status is, and it didn't really depress me,
but took the edge off of my high. Sometimes I feel like I have an unhealthy need for a
girlfriend.
From Meet:Students, "The Catharsis Item"

er Socializin

"A lot of the guys tend to be
really sweet over the
computer, and then you meet
them in person and they drive
you up the wall," Neilan said.
A person who asked not to
be identified said, "It's mainly
an emotional type of
attraction. I think it's more
legitimate than going up to
someone in a bar just because
you like the way they look."
Weiner went on to speak of
the difficulties of having one
reaction to someone while
talking to him or her on the
computer and having a
completely different one after
meeting in person. Describing
one of his friend's experiences
on MTS, Weiner said, "Almost
all of the time they would be
completely opposite from
what (my friend) gathered
they would be like."
The medium of MTS
requires that an attraction to a
person be based entirely on
responses or messages made on
the computer. Sometimes they
can be misleading. Even with
written responses the way
people behave over the
computer is only one portion
of their personalities.

Smith said. She stressed the
importance of recognizing that
behavior on computer
conference is not an indication
of how well people work or
study.
As with any written
communication, sometimes it
is difficult to convey ideas
effectively through a
computer without
misunderstanding. Once you
make a response and send it, it
can be very difficult to retract
what you wrote. Body
language and voice intonation
normally used to convey
sarcasm or a certain attitude
are very difficult to
communicate.
But people find ways to
make messages clear.
"Hard core MTS users
don't use caps or punctuation
except periods and
exclamation points because
you get lazy. But one of the
reasons is you learn to use
punctuation for emphasis or
inflectional tones you can't
convey otherwise," Van Oast
said.
People learn other methods
to make sure a response isn't
taken the wrong way. "If you

MTS to send electronic
messages to their friends at
this or other universities, to
talk to each other on computer
conferences, to do work for a
course through a conference,
and to talk directly with each
other through the computer
using the "converse"
command.
LSA sophomore Meredith

a graduate of the University,
each conference, or CONFER,
is an interactive forum which
allows students to discuss
specific issues. Participants do
not necessarily communicate
directly, or simultaneously,
but still carry on a
conversation by responding to
the items at different times.
CONFER serves as one way

+w r r . . ._ _ Y. ... ._

JANUARY 18, 1991

WEEKEND

PAGE 8

PAGE 9

WEEKEND

JAN

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