Nerds are human, too

Seventeen-year-old Tom Shepherd meets up with fellow newbies
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Indy Lifestyle Online
What do Brighton's plumbers, students, cartoonists and computer techies have in common? Unless they have an Internet connection, probably not a lot. My new group of friends met through e-mail, Internet Relay Chat and newsgroups. Now we meet up every week. On screen? No, at the pub.

What's more, we get on very well. Although we only met in the flesh a few months ago, our friendship has its roots at the beginning of the year, just after Pavilion Internet started in Brighton.

Back then, most of us were "newbies", struggling to get to grips with the Net's acronyms, protocols and software. One by one we discovered the local Pavilion newsgroups and posted messages introducing ourselves and asking for help.

Discovering other new users in the Brighton area was immensely comforting. Even though the Net is a global network, without a local Net community you begin to feel quite lonely. Californians or Scandinavians are there for a chat, but they can't moan about local issues or grumble about the weather, and there is not much chance of ever meeting up.

"It was good to know you weren't alone and that all the difficulties with the Net were not down to my incompetence," says Fred Pipes, a Brighton cartoonist and Net user. Fred was one of the first to suggest (in the newsgroup) that we should all get together one evening. It was a great idea, but there were risks. What if the rest of them were boring techies and we didn't get along? After all, it's one thing to be amusing in a newsgroup post or an e-mail, but would they live up to their words when talking face to face?

Simon Turner was not keen on a meeting until he had built up a mental picture of the other users. "In the end they weren't like that at all, but after a couple of hours I got used to their faces," he says. Although the youngest was 12 and the oldest was in his forties, conversation was not a problem because we all had one thing in common: the Net. And because we had known each other for months through the local newsgroups, e-mail and IRC, we could continue conversations that we'd started online.

"I'd use the Internet anyway, so getting together every week is a real bonus," says Aloysius (his user name), "and everyone who meets up is great."

It's true, and lots of new friendships have been forged. Three people are setting up in business together having met at the pub, two guys play pool every week before joining the rest of us, and I met someone who is now in most of my lessons at a new college. It was nice to see a face I recognised on the first day! When my monitor broke, one of the Net users I'd met at the pub lent me one while mine was repaired.

Having met all these people face to face, it is much more enjoyable talking to them over the Net, because you can imagine them saying what they write on screen. I've made lots of new friends through the Net; people that I would otherwise never have known, and meeting up every week is great fun.