Plights, fights and Atomic endurance
I spend, on average, 35 to 40 hours a week in an Internet-based environment. By some standards, this is trifling. By other standards, it qualifies me as an Internet junkie. By my standards, I am somewhere in between. Let it be said however, that I earned my propeller cap status some years ago, and still wear it with some kind of nerdish pride.
My own online adventures, particularly those in a few popular online forums, and a few well-known IRC channels, have been fantastically rewarding, and sometimes deeply disturbing.
The Internet provides limitless opportunities to communicate and collaborate, to integrate and to educate, to associate and to remonstrate. The real world has become dependant upon it to function and millions of people spend significant amounts of their life attached to it.
Yet as integrated into the real world as it is, the Internet is still a separate and distinct entity, complete with its own evolutionary path, language and cultures. What it does lack, are geographical boundaries. Boundaries do exist, however, these are harder to pinpoint, and are more ‘virtual’ in their nature. These boundaries are defined, deliberately or naturally, by the groups of people who come together, forming online communities, complete with their own hierarchy and social mores.
IRC, developed almost 15 years ago by a chappy in Finland, is the perfect example of where these communities are created and developed, but there are many other ways for people to communicate across the Internet. There are newsgroups and Website forums, which are public and visible to all who visit. There are instant messaging clients, providing better one-on-one communication. There is also email, Internet meeting applications, Internet phones and so on.
Communities have flourished to the point where people use them as virtual playgrounds, an opportunity to meet others, either with similar interests and ideals, or alternate, even opposing views and philosophies. Often these online encounters become real life friendships. Other times they end up in fierce and fiery battles as egos and ideologies clash. But that’s half the fun, isn’t it? Wouldn’t the whole IRC thing just be plain yawn worthy if everyone just agreed with everyone else?
Of course, the cover of a keyboard and distance afforded by a remote connection, allows people to express themselves in ways they would not otherwise have the intestinal fortitude for. It allows people to present different versions of their real personalities, painting pictures of themselves which often bear no resemblance to their actual individualities.
Many would disagree with this, and strongly argue that they are no different online to their real life personas. Yet despite their protestations, once a person presents themselves in real life situations, as opposed to online melodramas, reactions and responses to those situations are markedly different. Why is this?
Is it the case that some people are only witty and charming, or outrageously flirtatious, or aggressive and hostile, when they can hide behind relative anonymity? Perhaps, but it could be argued that a real life reaction to a situation, by its very nature, requires a different approach in dealing with it; one that is dictated by the standards set by society. However, if being bold, hostile and confrontational is not acceptable conduct in real life, why is it acceptable online?
Although, having suggested ‘anything goes’ type attitudes are more frequent in online worlds, one group of people are abhorred by it, and campaign against it, while other groups of people comfortable with it, and even indulge in it, holding a ‘freedom of speech’ banner in your face as they do it.
Perhaps many people are more open to explicit antics in an online environment because we are becoming used to being presented with confrontational imagery in our day-to-day life. In other words, why would we be so opposed to sexual innuendo or outright explicit conversation in chat rooms, when we are frequently exposed to it otherwise?
Just because today’s television and other media are so laden with sexual reference and tones, doesn’t mean we have to like it – some of us may even openly object to it. We know it’s there, and some of us rebel against it, some tolerate it and others contribute to it.
The ‘freedom of speech and expression’ brigade, in exercising their right to say and do as they please, fail to stop and consider the impact they may be having on the younger and/or more impressionable among us. They exert their rights over and above the harm it may do to others. But who am I to rant?
Despite all the that, despite all the online politicking, attention seeking antics, personality clashes and so on, there is much good, much to entertain and much to learn from others. Philosophical discussions are carried out, advice and assistance is sought and often provided, and relationships develop as romance blossoms.
Many people are happy for their online romances to consist of nothing more than simple flirting, laced with implied sexual references and innuendos. Others indulge in more explicit private conversations, and perhaps even exchange intimate images of themselves to personalise their fantasies.
Another group of people allow this to progress to real life encounters, which either cools the relationship on the spot, provides brief illicit sexual encounters, or develops into long term loving relationships.
Then the Gods created Atomic. . . and a community was born.
January 17, 2001 saw the birth of Atomic Magazine, and an instant following of loyal fans. A few of these quickly collaborated and created #atomicmpc, on the Austnet IRC servers. It quickly became the central meeting point for broad range of Atomic readers, and a place where they could often chat directly to staff from the magazine. Some of the chatters, from day one, are still there from time to time, such as Aquilae (channel owner) Potatocake, WoK, and myself.
Online chatters soon developed friendships in real life. Paddie Maguires Hotel in Sydney became a regular venue for Friday afternoon drinks. Other Atomic readers open their homes to parties, LANs, barbeques and other social get-togethers.
Over time, breakaway channels have been formed. There are a number of Atomic themed channels, such as #atomic, #atomic-tech, #sydney-atomic, #atomic-linux and a few which are simply alternate places to chew the fat with others, such as #allsorts and #theboobyzone and #thpam.
The Atomic community is huge. It spans a continent and beyond, with people joining from as far away as Spain. In Australia, the community has divided into a number of smaller identifiable groups, which are mostly geographically based.
These groups have their own sub groups, which gather regularly (drinking is often involved) organising various LANs, pub-crawls, clan gaming matches, movie outings, and so on.
As is the nature of any community, online or otherwise, friendships have been forged, knowledge has been shared, love has blossomed, disputes and battles have been waged. But, wonderfully, the Atomic community has become an entity unto itself.
There are a number of romances which have their roots in #atomicmpc. Some successes, some not so great. Some secret and illicit. Some open and well-known. It has also been responsible for the destruction of a few friendships too, and perhaps the ending of one or two marriages.
Cheers to the operators
There are those that choose to be overly critical of the channel operators. Sometimes the criticism is valid. Other times it just attention seeking. But people need to consider how the channel would be with no moderation -- with no active ops to ever manage the trouble makers, no bots or eggdrops from @Praetorian to inflict the kick/ban combo on occasion, and no rules to enforce and no support from Atomic.
Often times, IRC issues have spilled across into the Atomic forums, with some of the greatest flame fests many of us have seen.
Despite some opinion to the contrary, the ops in #atomicmpc do a fantastic job. They sacrifice personal time to sit in channel and try and maintain some level of sanity. Ops don’t always agree amongst themselves on the best way to manage the channel, and occasionally rifts develop. But every op, at the end of the day, has the best interests of the channel at heart, and we are as disappointed as everyone else when things sometimes take a turn for the worse.
Happily, well known #atomicmpc identity, Gramyre, has been working hard recently to organise some structured time in the channel, where the needs and expectations of the channel chatters are better addressed. This deserves support from both the chatters and the ops within the channel, providing some structure to an otherwise chaotic environment.
However, for myself, my chatting days have been becoming less frequent. I am losing the enthusiasm I once had, and am tired of the politics and power plays that pervade any number of communities, both real-world and online. I feel that it is better to leave the management of such online things at least, to those people who choose, or are able to place the online world over real world responsibilities.
As most ops would agree, it isn’t an easy job. Flamed and abused for upholding some basic standards of decency and commonsense. Phone calls at all hours to resolve disputes, countless emails reporting the activities of others, the need to pull together a bunch of people with the same goals, but very different ideas on how to get there. It used to be all fun and exciting, but the novelty eventually wears thin. More importantly, some people have responsibilities as a parent and/or partner. Every moment that we get involved in online activities we could be spending with family, or working to provide for that family. Some have different sets of priorities in life, and often you will find them lurking around in IRC, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Good on them too. Give them your support, for they are grease that keeps the wheels turning.
IRC is a great place. It is real-time interaction with others. It is a place to learn, and to teach. It is a place to socialise and to chill out.
A place to make friends and to do battle.
Don’t take my word for it. If you haven’t already dropped by, then stick your nose in the door and say ‘Hi.’ Hang around a bit, you may even enjoy it.
Simon ‘PHr33x’ Peppercorn
This Feature appeared in the January, 2005 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine