"Chatting" the Night Away

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

July/August 1998


With 20% of American homes capable of surfing the net and 85% of businesses connected, upwards of 75 million people are "online." In recent surveys, e-mail still remains the most popular use of the Internet, followed by information gathering.

But a new use is quickly gaining popularity -- Internet chat. Whenever I talk with people about Internet chat, their first reaction is "Hey, isn't that just a group of boys trying to talk to girls?" The answer is that may have been the situation until recently. But no more.

During the past year, Internet chat has expanded and now it is rapidly becoming an application with wide-ranging business and social possibilities. For example, I know several businesses that hold meetings via a chat program and at least one family holds a regular Sunday evening open chat enabling any of their relatives to drop in and "talk."

Chat is really rather straightforward. If you are on America Online you can either join an ongoing chat or create your own private chat room. In most cases, when you enter a chat room you simply type a brief message and anyone in the room can (and will) reply. A warning: Chat rooms can be pretty chaotic and a little disorienting since people respond at different rates of speed. With up to two dozen people, messages can be flying by at warp speed.

A relatively new use of chat software is called "Buddy Lists" or "Instant Messaging." Here you can enter a list of e-mail addresses (friends, relatives, business associates) and a program will alert you whenever they are online. Then, if you choose, you can invite them to chat in a private room, which is simply a "real time" e-mail exchange. America Online's Instant Messenger (www.aol.com) allows you to communicate instantly with any AOL user or any Internet user outside of AOL who has registered with Instant Messenger (at no cost). Mirabilis, an Israeli Company, provides free use of ICQ (pronounced "I Seek You") which is available at www.icq.com and serves the same purpose.

There are literally hundreds of sites available to visit and chat including some that allow you to select a character (an "avatar") to represent you in a three-dimensional space. When you type a message, it appears as though the avatar is speaking for you. Try The Palace at www.thepalace.com if you want to see what this is like.

One downside for this new frontier is that each chat room uses a chat client software that you must first download and then install on your computer. See my article in the May/June issue about downloading and installing software, or read it at my web site at www.technostress.com. Luckily, a few of these programs are becoming popular enough that they are being used in many chat rooms and most can be downloaded in 15-30 minutes. For a list of chat rooms visit www.100Hot.com for a list of the 100 hottest chat sites. Another potential problem concerns your cyberspace identity and privacy. On a discussion group in which I participate, a member told a story about being "Instant Messaged" on AOL by a person seeking advice on how to deal with a problem with her child. She instant messaged him because his profile indicated that he was a psychologist. Fortunately, on most instant messaging systems you can restrict the personal information that is available.

Finally, in the previous issue of The National Psychologist, I asked for people to e-mail me with technology questions and quite a few people took me up on my offer.

Clinton Gary Pettigrew took my advice last month to check out one of the programs I had recommended and he e-mailed to ask me how to uninstall it. With Windows 95 removing a program that you have installed is usually easy. Click on the START button and then move the pointer to SETTINGS. When a menu pops out to the right click on CONTROL PANEL. When the Control Panel opens up click on Add/Remove Programs and then click on the program you want to remove. Beware. Many people think that you can just go to Windows Explorer, which has a list of all folders and files and find the program and send it to the Recycle Bin. This is not nearly as effective as using Add/Remove Programs because a program often places files in other folders that need to be removed, too.

Bob Richard wanted to know how he could prepare for a computer crash. He had heard something about a "boot disk" but wasn't sure what to do. Well, Bob, it is definitely smart to prepare for a crash. Here's my advice. Click START and then HELP and look up "troubleshooting" in the help menu. Scroll down in this topic to "Windows Startup Problems" and read their advice. I would make a "startup disk" which then can be used to start your computer from your disk drive rather than from your Hard Drive (inside the computer). You can make this startup disk either by following the instructions in the Help screen or going to Add/Remove Programs in the Control Panel and following Startup Disk there. If Windows starts, but seems to have some problems, you can press the F8 key while it is starting and make a choice from a menu there to help get it started. If any of this sounds too complicated or scary, I would find a local computer repair shop that you trust and bring your problem computer to them. Some will even come out to your home or office for a small extra charge.

My strategy for any PC problem is to first call a friend who both knows about computers and can talk in clear, plain language. If he or she can't provide any suggestions, I call the support line for the product. When my scanner stopped working I called Microtek's support line and got immediate help. When my printer malfunctioned, Hewlett-Packard's support staff quickly diagnosed the problem over the phone, told me how to ship the machine to their repair facility and it was fixed and returned in a week! When neither my friend nor the support techs are able to fix the problem I go to my local repair shop where Irving has fixed my last three computers. Recently, my computer kept slowing down to a crawl. Irving identified and removed a virus and got it working again in a couple of hours. Everyone should find an Irving for just such emergencies.

By the way, do you know what to do if your computer either freezes or seems to take an inordinately long time to perform an operation? Press the CTRL, ALT and DELETE keys all at the same time. If a program is hung up, you will see a menu that allows you to stop that program or close it (remove it from your desktop). If your computer is seriously frozen (a not-uncommon Windows 95 occurrence) and CTRL-ALT-DELETE does not work, then press the button to turn off the machine, wait for a few seconds, and restart the computer. Both of these - freezes and crashes - happen to me routinely and I still have a working computer. Don't be bashful to take action.

Copyright, 1998, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $30 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.