Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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Virtual Relationships


"I used to date a woman who lived in a different city. We spent a lot of time together on E-mail. And we figured out a way we could sort of go to the movies together. We'd find a film that was playing at about the same time in both our cities. We'd drive to our respective theaters, chatting on our cellular phones. We'd watch the movie, and on the way home we'd use our cellular phones again to discuss the show." -Bill Gates "The Road Ahead".


The dates went so well! We ran up expensive hours on our cell phones, then spent the night together on line, in a private chat room. Sometimes we didn't talk at all. Each *! was a kiss, every () a hug. One night as the *!'s flew across virtual space, she playfully sent me a (&~*#). Emboldened, I sent back a #@((-+**$. I half expected to get ::'d for being such a cad, but she returned my #@((-+**$ and added a ***$%!! My head swam. We were both using keys we didn't know we had. I'd never been so logged on. Or so careless.

Two weeks later she called to say her PC had opened a new file, it was filling with data and soon we were going to have our own program! Some guys would have hit the "esc" key. I'm not like that. We were married in a beautiful ceremony. I was on my cell phone at a glorious Pacific beach house. She had always wanted to be married in Paris, so she called in from the top of the Eiffel Tower. On our honeymoon we stayed in the finest hotels along the French Riviera and the Olympic Penninsula. We danced. (She waltzed, I did the Freddy.) We fell asleep, each of us touching our keyboards.

Our secret file grew and several months later it emerged as a page on the Web. The whole world could access our little server! We were so proud! I wanted everyone to see and admire it. For the first few weeks I happily updated it three times a night. When I wasn't playing with it or feeding it information, she was. Then I guess we began to tire. I thought she should quit her job and devote herself full time to the page. She thought the same about me. We hired some people to tend to our page just during work hours, and those hours stretched into evenings and weekends. We argued. I send annoying E mail to her office. She paged me at the most inconvenient times and then routed me to voice mail when I called back! I mooned her through my fax modem. She hacked her way into my back statement and set up an automatic transfer into her account, for the page (she said)! Like she was really interested in maintaining it! I got a little crazy one night and listed her house with an on line real estate agent. (We had shared all our important ID numbers in those intimate, dizzy early days of the relationship.) I got her a good price, even after I took back the money she'd raided from my savings. When she found all her stuff in the street one day, the E mail she sent from her laptop scorched my interface.

When we finalized the split, the lawyers insisted we appear at the same time in the same place ... physically!

It was very different. It was like multi-tasking, but intense, vivid, with more options and less control. I admit I liked it. It reminded me of those movies we used to watch on our virtual dates, where the actors were pretending to be real people who did foolish things just because they couldn't stand to be apart. I remember how we talked about it on our cell phones afterwards. We laughed about how implausible it was, a "personal chemistry" that began when two people touched! Ha! It seemed like science fiction to me then, but that was a long time ago. I'm older now. Wiser. Sure, I'd do some things differently, but I try not to dwell on it. There's a growing page on the Web that needs my constant attention, and I don't have time to wallow in a lot of regrets.

(This piece was used on the Morning Show in January '96, and appeared on the Commentary page of the Star Tribune Newspaper in March.)