How Old Are You?

October 2nd, 1997 at 11:54 am by Mark
Tags: , , , ,

     That still makes me cringe every time I see it typed.

     And it never fails. You go into an IRC channel, an AOL chat room, telnet to your favourite talker or MUD, or even Usenet and someone who doesn’t know you will most always ask …

how old are you.

m or fem?

     Your initial thought usually gives regard to the lack of capitalisation or punctuation, perhaps even a lack of decent grammar. But then you get over it, often thinking, well, Hell, at least I wasn’t innocently exploring AOL and getting an instant message from BigDick90210…


     Messages of that sort that can be terribly confusing to anyone who is, very obviously, not physically equipped to even answer of a question (or statement, as it may be) of that sort. Unless you enjoy that sort of thing, these people aren’t worth talking to. But… these questions… they’re not that offensive or anything, really… just…

how old are you.

m or fem?

     You start to answer, but then you think about it for a moment, and realise, hey, that’s kind of rude, isn’t it?

     Isn’t it?

     Maybe it’s the way I was brought up. You could talk to strangers a bit when I was a kid; everything wasn’t so dangerous that you were afraid to let children out of your sight. But then, if I had walked up to someone I didn’t know and asked either of those questions, my parents would have given me a good, hard wallop.
     “You don’t ask people how old they are!” my mother told me. “That’s just plain rude!”

     I can’t say that I don’t disagree.

     Still, sometimes I sit there, wonder about it for a moment, and think, “Well, okay, this is a bit silly of me, really. I mean, hey, we’re all chatting here in this space, sometimes for a few days, weeks, whatever … this is somebody I’ll get to know, perhaps. They’re just trying to see what commonalities we have…”
     And then, I usually end up telling them. I just find it odd, I guess, because I rarely, if ever, ask those sorts of questions myself (and never out of context, mind you). Usually, if you pay attention, and you’re a reasonable judge of character, you can get a pretty good sense of who a person is just by idle chat: the things they say, the way they compose themselves during a “conversation” or what have you.
     You assure yourself that it’s only an Internet-related phenomenon. It’s not like they’re walking up to you in public and saying “How old are you?” or “Are you male or female?” In public, they can of things easily (unless it’s someplace like 42nd Street or K Road). They’re being inquisitive online because they can’t see you. The net is free of those kinds of prejudices, for the most part. Of course, there are those who want there to be prejudices like Age and Sex and Where You Live to be thrown in there, but for the most part, the people you meet online are nice enough lots.

     Most times, if the group you’re talking to is within a given area of the world, there might be some sort of get-together where everyone can meet each other, see who they’ve been talking to for all those weeks, months, sometimes even years. Quite a few of them will be inquisitive about what you might look like, considering they’ve imagined, from time to time. Usually, it’s at a local club or coffee house, and everyone sits around, talks, has a few drinks… Nothing major, and it’s usually quite different from the chat rooms. Some people get disappointed initially because someone didn’t look like someone else thought they would or something of that nature, but for the most part, those types of gatherings can be fun, right?
     And it’s usually a bit odd meeting them face-to-face for the first time. But if you’re comfortable with who you are, and you’ve been chatting for some time, it’s no big deal, right? All those questions in the beginning about how old you are, what sex you are, they don’t have any bearing on real life, do they?
     You walk into the assigned meeting place, to the assigned set of tables and look around, realising that these are average Joes, not unlike yourself. There was nothing to worry about, nothing to feel odd about at all. You may even chuckle to yourself a bit about feeling pressured.
     And invariably, someone will turn around and loudly ask…

who are you?

how old are you?

     But back to the problem at hand… The question… How to answer… “Ah, yes. I know,” you think to yourself, grinning slightly.

i’m 83 years old bucktoothed bowlegged and a horrid alcoholic with chronic halitosis. i live in a trailer in BFE and i live to swill beer, watch a broken television set, work on my big red truck with the gunrack in the back and beat my wife. my name’s mark, and it’s nice to meet you.

     “Ahh, yes,” you think. “I’ve outsmarted them now. Now maybe they’ll realise that was an off question and we can start again.”
     It’s only then that you realise the gross error you’ve made. They respond.

hey man it’s nice to meat you i’m kelly and i like to work on pabst blue ribon what do you drink
do you like sex

     “Dammit!” It’s only then that you realise what you’ve gotten yourself into. You finally notice that the first three thousand IRC channels are #!!!!!!!!HORNY_SLUTS, #!!!!!!!!!SISTER_SEX_PICS, #!!!!!!!!!fuck_my_wife and the like…

     “Gods,” you mutter to yourself with despair. “Perhaps there really aren’t any social skills left amongst the Internet geeks…”

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