This paper reports a small number of interviews with young people in Athens about their use of Internet chatrooms as a means of meeting people.In the last few years there has been a growing public concern about the dangers of socialising with strangers in chatrooms, but what do the users themselves think about the risks involved, and what strategies have they adopted to manage these risks?For many of us the Internet has become an indispensable part of everyday life.It frequently provides our first point of access to information.In this paper we describe a particular set of Internetbased interactions that have great appeal to young people but create most anxiety among parents and other adults. In the main they were concerned about security rather than pornography, which they saw as amusing rather than harmful.
Involvement in it can become the most ‘real’ world in which you act, as Sherry Turtle puts it, quoting one of her informants, ‘RL’ (‘Real Life’). Currently the sites where these experiments with the presentation of self are most common are in textbased chatrooms, but chatrooms are themselves changing, being linked to ‘reality TV’, becoming hybridised with SMS (text messaging) and extending into other forms.
Chatrooms, in particular, combine the closeness and directness of the personal letter with the interactivity of the phone conversation, so sidestepping the contemporary obsession with personal appearance and liberating us from the constraints that this imposes.
Such conversations in the dark allow us to be reaffirmed in the images we have of ourselves rather than being constrained by our consciousness of all the shortcomings that others might see in us.
It is not unknown for girls and boys, and even researchers to take on new selves.
Sherry Turkle tells of her shock and surprise at entering a chatroom anonymously and encountering another Professor Turkle who was there doing research.