This article I wrote for EWNIForum and was also published in the Mensa Bulletin, is written so early in internet history that it actually refers to an e-mail as an e-letter. It dates from 1998 or so and highlights my total lack of computer savvy. Also see my first blog entry on this blog for the exact same phenomenon: My first instinct was always to ask help from my husband, and his answer was NO. It turned out later he was lying through his teeth about not having a clue. He knows ALL about it and could have helped me. He just didn’t want to. He actually enjoyed watching me run around clueless and frustrated and not getting what I needed or wanted. Because he is an abusive, sadistic asshole who excells at lying to manipulate and hurt people. We were divorced two years ago, and I thank God every day.
Journey to the Undernet
When the editor of our local newsletter anointed me the expert on how to get on IRC (Internet Relay Chat), or more specifically, the #Mensans chat room thereon, as per the e-mail invitation on the subject from Peg Shambo (a.k.a “Jazzie”) which was printed, it was of course up to me to become one. The only reason my name was even involved is that I had written an e-letter preferring ICQ (because it’s easy and I know how to use it and already have it), to the person who forwarded Peg’s letter to us, and the only reason it got in the newsletter is because I could assure the editor I had, in fact, once, successfully downloaded mIRC (the software to access and operate it), from one of the URLs Peg gave.
The thing is, I hadn’t found any Mensans on it. When I entered #Mensans as instructed I ended up in an empty room with myself as chat host. It is at such moments that I really hate computers, I do. They intimidate me something fierce, I am NOT technically inclined, and here I am in an outer cyberspace void, just because I did exactly what I was supposed to do, and didn’t it say right on the top bar I was, indeed, on IRC? In #Mensans? Help?
Usually, my next move is toward the phone, or toward Rich my software engineer computer wiz husband, wherever he may be. He spends half his days on the internet, but don’t you know he’s never been on or used IRC, and, in his very words, has “no clue.” Well, that makes two of us, and I better go find one, because the newsletter said I knew what I was doing.
The first nice thing that happened then, when I tried again a few days later, was that the mIRC I had downloaded was just where I left it and worked like a charm, and had somehow ended up in my bookmarks where I easily found it. Click; and I was in, right in my Mensans room. Still no one else there. I got bold, and started clicking around and entering chat rooms I thought interesting. Having already had some experience chatting and “surfing” chat rooms, I knew which ones to avoid (with titles like “Godhatesfags” or “Teen sluts” – the amount of them is truly sad), and instead had a “So how’s the weather” kind of talk with a gentleman in a “40-ish” chat room. I told him I was actually looking for Mensans, but he had no idea either. He did manage to tell me I was not in the same IRC I thought I was (oh, there’s more than one?), this was Microsoft Chat. It was??
Then my birthday rudely interrupted matters by supplying me with Simcity 3000, a game I like and hadn’t been able to play for a long time (my Simcity 2000 wouldn’t run anymore, something was conflicting with the sound card), in which I drowned for about two weeks. When I next clicked my bookmark, a few days ago, with a deep sigh, I have GOT to find these Mensans, it started loading some file from somewhere on my C drive, and did not quit. I tried again and again and again (feeling like an idiot monkey in a psychological experiment: will I get the pellet?); the endless download, each time.
Well for one of those “only in computerland” (where the Great Unfathomable reigns) reasons, this had suddenly ceased to be easy, and was even impossible. Then I had a good insight: start from scratch, and read the mail closely. Fortunately by this time I had the original from Peg herself, so I figured if I got really lost again this time, I could write her; plus this was a “clean” copy and easier to understand and read. Even more fortunately, no horde of members had called to ask for my help. Not even one. But of course, either they knew what they were doing, being Mensans and all and not computerphobes like me, or they weren’t into internetting or the IRC, like Rich. Anyway, I had some room to breathe.
So I went into my files and did what the e-mail instructed, and downloaded mIRC (again, and fingers crossed) via one of the websites, from a server in Utah. That went smooth as silk. And indeed looked entirely different from the other chat, when after download I immediately found it, put an icon for it on my desktop, and doubleclicked it, feeling extremely proud of myself (all you expert computerpeople out there don’t you LAUGH). I connected, to the default server the dial window presented. A server is a server, I didn’t even think about it. It hooked me up to IRC chat right swift, too, and there I was, looking at the menu of chat rooms. Phew, pretty self-explanatory, okay, I can do this, enter #Mensans, click “Join.” And there I am, in an empty chat room, with myself as host.
Out of sheer habit, my next move is to alert Rich to the fact I’m having trouble and would he please be my knight in shining armour and resque me from the Great Unfathomable. I had forgotten about his lack of clue (probably because I find it so hard to believe, it’s just so not like him); he reminds me. I slink back off to my back office. I read the mail again. I’m supposed to be on something called the Undernet. The Mensans are on the Undernet, and the Undernet is on IRC. Or a part of IRC, or something. I click on my icon, I connect to IRC, no problem. I do the psychological monkey twice or three times, and am one three times, alone in my chat room, with time to reflect on how I do hate computers.
I decide to take a dive into the other chat rooms. Where to go? No #Mensans is anywhere, might as well have fun. Trivia? Family? Cybersex? Ah, what’s this, #pinkfloyd. Had a very nice chat there, I must say; rare to meet someone who appreciates Umma Gumma as much as you do, and reminds you of the beautiful lyrics of “Grantchester Meadows.” But, I am on a quest, as I also told him; he was kind enough to refer me to the help chat rooms. I thanked him, and went to several, because none of them were helpful. Unbeknownst to me, the list of names to the right, the people in the chat, were “Listbots.” They are preprogrammed to perform certain functions to facilitate the technical aspects of the chat, and give some responses in the chat itself. Some names were real, but their owners were “away, leave message.” Others did not answer questions I posed, plus, I didn’t really know what to ask.
I went for the menu again, very tempted to waste the rest of the night with my fine fellow fans of Floyd, but instead went into a “40-ish” room and there met a very nice lady, who immediately asked how I was, to which I answered, “fine, confused, but fine, thank you.” As we talked, she told me there was a button which would give me a menu of all the rooms on this channel, which turned out to be entirely different and much larger (took minutes to download) and in color, with samples of the discussion going on. Given the plethora of obscene and violent chat room titles, that wasn’t necessarily an improvement.
However, no amount of scrolling the over 4000 names discovered #Mensans. Back to the kind lady; she asked if perhaps I knew the IRC identities of persons who would be in that chat room, and I could page them. I actually did; there were several in Peg’s mail. I tried, with a little help from my newfound friend, but for all IRC knew these people did not exist. Hmmm. But, as I read the e-mail again to find those nicknames, I found a question to ask in the help rooms, or indeed of anyone I met: Am I on the Undernet, or what? The lady did not know.
It only took about five room visits, to discover that I was on “or what.” Not only did this gentleman tell me I was not, in fact, on the Undernet, he told me exactly where to find it and how to get there. I thanked him profusely, and was by this time smart enough to know that when you exit an IRC chat room or minimize it, you have a hard time getting back if you did not know exactly where you were so I also said goodbye as I clicked on the link he gave me, found the Undernet server listings where he told me I could find them (they are selectable as you dial into IRC, in that window I ignored: a server is NOT a server), was connected to the right one pronto, with the same familiar small chatroom selection window in black/grey/white on top. Cool.
The next step was easy: enter #Mensans, click “Join.” Bingo, I’m there, and every single one of the people Peg mentioned in her mail is there, too. I make a VERY gleeful entrance, I am so relieved to see familiar faces! I inform Peg/Jazzie that she has a desperate mail from me in her inbox (written right after the menu of over 4000 didn’t list them either) but that she need no longer bother to answer it. Next, we discuss music, and kids, and books, and crack jokes, and spell things right (hard to come by in chats, believe me), and I get used to internet relay chat’s eccentricities the easy way, as the regular trend of regular Mensa conversation carries me along. Made it; did it; can now say, been there, done that. Know more than Rich about something computer-related, for once in my life. And have precisely the kind of company I pay Mensa dues for, right at my fingertips. Maybe I DO like computers, just a little.