Over at Deadspin, Katie Baker has a very good post up about her teenage life online, when she constructed an elaborate fake identity on a Usenet newsgroup as a Harvard-bound 18-year-old: “I Was Teenage Hockey Message Board Jailbait.”
The Flyers newgroup was my favorite by far.
I’m not sure when I started to lie, but it seemed like no big deal. Upholding a cherished tradition among so many high-school-aged girls throughout history, I shrugged and added two years to my age. Fifteen became seventeen. The truth just sounds different.
But the more I lied, the more I lied more, creating extraneous backstories to flesh out the details of my fictional life. I was about to graduate, I blithely allowed, scattering fibs around various posts like so much confetti. I had Rangers season tickets. I had gone to the 1999 NHL Draft party, I reported in one post, and boy,had I been surprised by all the boos for Jamie Lundmark!
On and on, each lie more pathologically gratuitous than the last. I explained that I was taking a year off before going to college at, wait for it, Harvard. It remains a great embarrassment to me that I would be so unimaginative with the location of my faux matriculation, but I more than made up for it in conjuring a whole cadre of fake older brothers whom I credited for both my love of sports and, having been knocked around by them for years, my own physical toughness at the hockey rink. I did play hockey, at least. “The Chick with the Hockey Stick,” my signature file read, one of the very few things that was actually true.
It’s a well-written piece, an an interesting story – if not a common one, at least one that I’d expect many of us can relate to. I never had any lie become as elaborate as Bakers’ eventually did, or spill over into my “real life” like hers, but my friends and I messed around on AOL chat rooms all the time, making up different identities. On several occasions a friend and I, when we were maybe 13, signed onto AOL in the guise of an 18-year-old named “sexpot69” or something equally silly, and giggled to each other while random guys (who, in fact, were quite possibly also 13) asked us into private chat rooms and narrated their masturbation. We thought it was hilarious. We would read for a few minutes, type occasional semi-encouragement or immature jokes, laugh hysterically, then sign off in a rush and delete all traces of sexpot69 from the computer.
I suppose this is exactly what parents are afraid their kids are doing online, but really, it never did us any harm – we were smart enough never to give out any addresses or phone numbers or personal details; the guys (if they even were guys) involved were gross and awkward but never scary. In retrospect, it was a pretty safe way to feed our curiosity. In fact, as in Katie Baker’s story, in the end it may have been harder on the guys involved than on us.