Welcome to my wonderful nerdy world

'We are open to a real riot of characters; academics, gangsters, transvestites and fundamentalists'
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The Independent Online

I have seen the figures. I have read the reports. Frankly, I know everything I need to know about the allegedly compulsive behaviour of computer-users. Some 52 per cent of us experience mood swings and have problems with our personal and social lives. Those who spend five to ten hours online every week (who are these part-timers?) spend a shocking 13 per cent less time with their family and friends.

I have seen the figures. I have read the reports. Frankly, I know everything I need to know about the allegedly compulsive behaviour of computer-users. Some 52 per cent of us experience mood swings and have problems with our personal and social lives. Those who spend five to ten hours online every week (who are these part-timers?) spend a shocking 13 per cent less time with their family and friends.

When in front of their computers, these people tend to be "happy, excited and powerful" while, in human company, they become "anxious and depressed". Turn to the findings of No-Brain University, Wisconsin, or the American Journal of the Blindingly Obvious if you want more.

Perhaps at this point, I could ask a question on behalf of the happy, excited and powerful folk: what exactly is the problem here? Those of you scurrying about in the outside world, spending all that precious time with friends and family may like to see us as pale, clammy-skinned dysfunctionals, but from where we sit - inside a computer, in Netland - you are not looking in such good shape yourselves.

This may come as a shock to some of you. It's better in here. The environment in which we move - the "virtual" world, as you patronisingly call it - is incomparably more stimulating, cosmopolitan, surprising, democratic, intellectually challenging and friendly than anything your much over-rated reality can offer. In Netland, there are millions of places to visit, providing an endless insight into human psychosis. Outside, if you meet a bore, you may be trapped for minutes, hours. Here, it is easy: one click and they are gone.

We are open to a riot of voices and characters - academics, gangsters, transvestites, fundamentalists - and, as a result, are more intellectually alive than anyone on the outside. Because information in Netland more often than not turns out to be misinformation,objective truth becomes an irrelevance. Everything is virtual, yet real. What is false is, by nature of it being there, also true. Just try to imagine, as you go about avoiding your mood swings and developing your personal and social life, the joy of being liberated from the tyranny of fact.

You will want to know about our sex lives. Everybody does. It has been suggested that 90 per cent of everyone's time in Netland is spent on some erotic pursuit or exchange (we are working on that last 10 per cent) but then, if you were offered the sheer variety of daily experience that we enjoy, then you would, too. In this lovers' Eldorado, not only is every fantasy accepted as being valid in its own way, but the central problem in human relationships - not the dullness of the other person, but the dullness of yourself - is resolved.

Here you can be anyone you choose to be. One day, you might be a frisky granny looking for one last fling, the next a tremulous teenager coming to terms with his homosexuality. If the Recently Divorced chat-room becomes too tearful, you can change sex, age, race and inclination, and opt for the brutal pleasures of Daniella's Dungeon. Communication, of course, is incomparably more honest here. Whereas an encounter in the real world will be confused by the extraneous diversions of the physical world - looks, voice, body language, surroundings, expectation, etiquette - the equivalent in Netland is telling. Just as the written work of novelist is more revealing than any interview, so an e-mail is a daily microcosm of the same process.

For reasons no one quite understands, a letter sent electronically provides a shortcut to the soul, exposing, even in its punctuation, spelling and use of capitalisation, the essential nature and desires of the sender. Ambition, romanticism, career panic, loneliness, incipient madness: they are all there between every letter and syllable of even the shortest e-mail. Who could be surprised that those who fall in love in Netland are rarely if ever disappointed when they meet in the real world?

The only true surprise is that institutes still bother to report that when we emerge, blinking, into the real world, we are traumatised by what we see. The fact is, we are happy inside our computers. Now go away and leave us alone.

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