Pirch Help |
mIRC help |
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Over the years, we've all built up ways of interacting on the
Internet. Those behaviors are based on our experience, both online
and in the real world. Newcomers to the Internet often make
mistakes because they have only non-Internet experiences. But
imagine how you'd do if you were new to the Internet and also
lacked experience in real life: you'd be at sea in a world with
its own strange rules and without the basics most of us fall back
on in unfamiliar situations.
That's a bit what it's like to be a kid on the Internet, and
although there is plenty of advice for Internet newcomers, it's
seldom tailored to kids. That's what I plan to do here, and this
article is written explicitly to younger Internet users. I hope
kids (or frankly, those who are just young on the Internet) can
make use of this information when learning about the Internet.
More important, perhaps, I want this advice to help jump-start
discussions about the reality of the Internet between children and
parents or teachers. Education is all-important, and learning
about the Internet should be no exception.
**Choosing an Email Username**
Sometimes you can choose your
own email username when you're first getting on the Internet.
That's great, but think carefully about what you choose. Email
usernames should be short, easy to type, and easy to remember.
It's a good idea to use your name or initials if possible, since
those will be the easiest for others to remember (you almost never
use your email address yourself, whereas other people use it
constantly). You can choose a nickname or other word for your
email username, but I'd caution against picking something you
think is funny right now but might hate in a year, or a username
which refers to something no one will remember in a year. You may
have to live with your email username for a long time.
**Spelling and Grammar**
Most of the time you communicate with
people on the Internet in writing. Thus, how you write affects how
other people think of you. It's a bit like clothes - wear the
"wrong" clothes and some people will consider you a serious dork.
Similarly, if you write badly in email, some people will assume
that you're not particularly bright. It's all related to your
audience, so if you're writing to a friend, things like proper
spelling and grammar may not be that important, but if you're
sending a message to a discussion list read by people who don't
know you, it's a good idea to spend more time on your message so
it's clear and correct. The goal of communication is to convey
information to another person, and if your spelling and grammar
make your messages hard to understand, you're failing at
communicating, just as if you mumbled while speaking.
Oh, as a side note, if you're sending email to adults and you want
them to take you seriously or to help you, try to avoid current
slang words (adults won't understand those words, so there's no
point in using them), put blank lines between paragraphs (they
make your messages easier to read), and don't overdo the
punctuation. There's nothing that marks a message from a kid more
than having sentences end in !!!!!! instead of just a single
Also, don't write with the Caps Lock down unless you mean to have
your message come across as though you're shouting. There's no
arguing with this one - it's just the way things are on the
Internet, and if you use only capital letters, people think you're
shouting. Some people only use lowercase letters for much the same
reason - they feel it makes their messages come across as though
they're speaking softly. I generally recommend using normal case,
capitalizing the first words in sentence and proper nouns and the
like because it's easier to read.
If you ever receive an email message that says
you must send it to 10 friends or else you'll have bad luck,
immediately delete it and don't send it to anyone! Messages that
tell you to forward them on to other people are called "chain
mail" and they are an incredible annoyance on the Internet. Some
chain mail purports to be for a good cause, but chain mail never
comes with an expiration date, even when the good cause was over
years ago. The problem is that gullible people keep sending chain
mail around. So, even if you think it's funny, please don't
participate in chain mail. If everyone did, it could potentially
overwhelm the Internet because of the massive number of messages
that would be generated. It's a serious enough problem that some
colleges and universities consider sending chain mail is
considered a violation of the campus computing rules, and you can
get in big trouble for sending it.
For a real life example of how chain mail is dangerous, first take
an eight by eight checkerboard and put two pennies on the first
square in the lower left-hand corner. Then, moving left-to-right,
double the number of pennies on each square, moving up a row when
you get to the end of a row. So, there are two pennies on square
1, four pennies on square 2, eight pennies on square 3, 16 pennies
on square 4, 32 pennies on square 5, 64 pennies on square 6, 128
pennies on square 7, and 256 pennies on square 8. That's $2.56,
right? Let's just talk about it in terms of money from now on. On
the next row, the amount of money is up to $5.12 on square 9,
$10.24 on square 10, $20.48 on square 11, $40.96 on square 12,
$81.92 on square 13, $163.84 on square 14, $327.68 on square 15,
and $655.36 to finish the second row on square 16. If you were to
continue this exercise for all 64 squares on our checkerboard,
you'd have to put $18,446,700,000,000,000,000 on that final
square. Not even Bill Gates has that kind of money.
So, you can see that if a piece of chain mail is forwarded to just
two people who also forward it on for 64 generations, there would
be so many copies of the message that no real email could ever
hope to get through.
**Spam Is Scam**
An unfortunate fact of life on the Internet is
unsolicited commercial email, more commonly known as "spam."
Basically, if you have an email address, it's likely that someone
will send you mail that you didn't ask for trying to sell you
something. There isn't much you can do about spam other than
delete it, but keep in mind that anything that's offered via spam
mail is almost guaranteed to be a scam. Just like in the real
world, if something sounds too good to be true, it's probably a
**Email Is Not Private**
Many people assume that email is
private and secure, but unfortunately, just as there's no real way
to prevent people from snooping in your room, there's no
guaranteed way to prevent others from reading your email. In other
words, don't use email for anything that could prove truly
embarrassing or you will regret it, sooner or later.
Be careful of mailing lists. If you get a message from someone via
a mailing list, and you reply to that message, there's a good
chance your reply will go back to the list and thus to everyone on
the list. If you meant your reply to go only to the original
sender of the message, it can prove extremely embarrassing. To
avoid making this mistake, look at the To line in your email
program when you're writing a reply, particularly if the reply is
of a personal nature. Make sure the To line contains the email
address of the person to whom you want to send the reply, and not
a mailing list.
**Chat Room Identities**
If you're participating in a chat
room, be it in the Internet's IRC (Internet Relay Chat), AOL's
chat rooms, or somewhere else, assume that no one is who they say.
It's common practice for people to take on alternate identities
when they're in a chat room. There's nothing wrong with role-
playing, but some people do this for purely deceptive purposes.
For instance, the majority of people using chat on the Internet or
AOL are teenage boys or adult men, so the chances of it being true
when someone claims they're a cute 14-year-old girl are extremely
low. Don't believe anything you're told in a chat room - since you
can't evaluate the source of the information, you can't tell
whether or not the information might or might not be accurate.
**Don't Be Gullible**
Do you believe everything you're told?
How about everything you read? I certainly hope not! You should
always be skeptical, and information on the Internet carries no
more of a guarantee of accuracy than information from anywhere
else. Just as you can find books that put forth outright lies, so
too can you find Web sites that propagate incorrect information.
The same will apply to email, Usenet news, and chat rooms - you
must always try to figure out if the information you find or
receive is accurate. The best way to do that is to look for more
information on the topic, then see how that additional information
compares and where it comes from.
For instance, if I tell you in a chat room that the moon is made
of green cheese, you could check my statement by searching in a
Web search engine like Alta Vista on something like "moon
composition green cheese". If you found a Web site run by NASA
talking about the composition of moon rocks and a reference
regarding the moon being made of cheese in a collection of
children's stories, you can then decide if NASA is more of an
authority on the moon (NASA astronauts having visited it) than a
**Meeting in Real Life**
At some point, you may want to meet
someone in person who you've talked to on the Internet. Although
it's fun to do this most of the time, be aware that it's also
potentially very dangerous, since you know nothing about this
person other than what they've told you. And, as I noted above,
they could be lying. So here's my advice.
First, tell your parents and get permission to meet this person.
Sneaking around behind their backs will only make things a lot
worse when they find out, and parents always find out eventually.
Second, arrange to meet in a public place - never in private. That
may sound alarmist, but meeting in a public place eliminates the
possibility of many bad things happening without damaging the
enjoyment of the meeting. Third, don't go alone - take someone
with you. Fourth and finally, never travel a long distance to meet
someone in an unfamiliar city.
If you think I'm being paranoid, imagine a movie where the main
character has a habit of making the wrong decision and ending up
in trouble. You know ahead of time that something bad is going to
happen, because of the creepy soundtrack. The music swells, and
you're thinking "Don't arrange to meet at the cemetery at
midnight, you idiot! We know that chat room cutie is really a
homicidal maniac with a fetish for pulling the wings off flies."
Now imagine yourself as the main character and see if you think
that someone watching you would be hearing the creepy music and
thinking "Don't be stupid!" If so, don't do the stupid thing.
I hope the advice I've provided above proves
useful for starting those discussions of how to make appropriate
use of the Internet. I won't pretend this is the last word on the
subject, so if you have a common sense suggestion for kids or
others who are new to the Net, send it to me and I'll consider it
for a future article.
[Adam C Engst is publisher of NetBITS and author of a number of
best-selling Internet books, though he has yet to be made into an
Copyright © 1998-99 The F.U.N. Place. All rights reserved