Copyright 1994 Gannett Company, Inc.  
December 9, 1994, Friday, FINAL EDITION

LENGTH: 817 words

HEADLINE: With on-line chat, some like it hot

BYLINE: Leslie Miller

    Cyberspace isn't all circuit boards and data searches.

A lot of those business suits zooming down the information highway are slowing down long enough at the end of the day (and the middle) to stop in for a virtual brew at on-line pubs and parties and even check out the red-light districts.

Those who've never indulged in on-line socializing can get a hint of its pleasures - and hazards - in two new books from Waite Group Press, Love Bytes: The Online Dating Handbook by David Fox ($ 18.95) and Erotic Connections: Love and Lust on the Information Highway by Billy Wildhack ($ 24.95).

Fox grew up in cyberspace; at 21, the New Yorker has been on-line a decade and had "some endlessly deep relationships." The book, out in January, also quotes other on-line couples.

Wildhack (a pseudonym) is a fortysomething Illinois computer writer who wants to keep his real name to himself. "I don't know how people I do business with would feel about" his directory of 500 adults-only computer bulletin boards (BBSes) where callers can "hot chat," play X-rated trivia games and download erotic photos and steamy stories.

The authors' thoughts:

Q: What's the attraction of socializing this way?

Fox: The on-line world is completely talk, not touch, but you can meet someone over the computer just like in real life. Dating is different on-line; superficiality is stripped away.

Wildhack: People need affirmation; they need people to appear to like them, and you can get that in chat. You think, "Someone enjoys the things I write" - that feels good. But on adult BBSes, adult graphics are clearly the main draw. We should stop pretending people interested in this are a minority.

Q: Why go to BBSes if large services offer private chat?

Wildhack: Adult BBS members are a little friskier; BBSes also cost less. They have message areas for sexual topics (as does Internet). You can get centerfold-type photos on CompuServe, but many BBSes have huge libraries to download.

Q: What kind of people socialize on-line?

Wildhack: Every type of person uses chat services; on adult boards, there are users from 21 to their 50s. I talked to a dentist in New York, and in between root canals, he would log on hoping to run into a couple of female users he was very interested in. It was a safe way of conducting a little hanky-panky.

Q: Not everyone on adult boards wants that, do they?

Wildhack: No, some just like to talk and socialize, some are on-line to play; some are looking for a mate. It can be like talking to your neighbor over the fence - now it's an electronic fence. Some people who think they're playing around may find themselves deeply involved . . . and some are just looking for a phone sex partner that's cheaper than a 900 number.

Q: What kind of "hot chat" takes place on-line?

Wildhack: I rarely see anything sexual in public areas, even those with names like "The Hot Tub" or "Anything Goes." It's usually just people welcoming each other into a chat room and kidding around. But sometimes it heats up and then two people disappear into private mode; they can have a private conversation or write extended (erotic) scenarios together.

Fox: You can say anything you want, any way you want. You can spill your guts, write a letter or a poem, talk about your day. I must have 900,000 pages of love letters.

Q: Are there still more men on-line?

Wildhack: There are way more men. Cyberspace needs more women. Some BBSes even give women free access.

Q: How much deception actually takes place on-line?

Fox: The more you deal with sex, the more deception goes on. If you're just talking about hobbies and what you're interested in, why would you deceive anybody? And that's where the real, long-term relationships sprout from, not from sex talk.

Wildhack: It's naive to think everyone's talking honestly; misrepresenting yourself is very easy. It happens all the time.

Q: What about community standards and the California BBS owners sentenced last week for obscenity in Memphis?

Wildhack: Higher courts will have to decide whether local standards should apply when people are linked on-line in a community. . . . (If this ruling is upheld) you won't be able to post anything with the certainty that you might not offend somebody and be hauled into court.

Computer social centers

Cyberdater David Fox rates on-line options:

-- Internet. For the real power-dater; Internet has everything, but if you're not comfortable with computers, it could be tough.

-- America Online. Friendly and easy; geared toward socializing.

-- CompuServe. Information-oriented; more like an office, but flirting goes on in an office too.

-- Prodigy. Very simple, family-oriented; for people who have no idea what a computer does, but want to be entertained.

-- BBSes. The kinkiest places on-line. Not all are, but the ones that get used a lot are sex-oriented. . . . sex sells.

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