Readers' Submissions

Internet Protocol

  • Written by Felix
  • March 28th, 2007
  • 11 min read

China Hotel Guide
• Harbour Plaza Hotel Chongqing
• Huang Jia Grand Hotel
• JW Marriott Hotel Chongqing
• Wanyou Conifer Hotel

In the easy-going old days, when the pill had proven to be effective, but AIDS not yet entered mankind, and all STDs were curable by newly developed antibiotics, in those halcyon carefree days I discovered in Hong Kong certain venues of amusement I have never found in another place.

Those were the so called "Midnight-Meetings", a special kind of nightclub that opened – contrary to its name – just after lunch. "Midnight meeting" places were not advertised to English speaking people or sailors from the four seas. But if you could read Chinese and follow the writing on the wall up through a steep staircase without elevator, you were not refused entry. You could be asked: "You know where you are?" and if you answered "Yes" you were admitted.

One reason for this hospitality towards unexpectedly arriving Farangs was that the girls who worked there could not see that you were a foreigner. All activities took place in complete darkness. The assembly hall of the Midnight meetings was a big black box into which not a single ray of light could invade. You heard the swoosh of an air condition, not very cold, but you saw nothing. You were led to a plastic covered settee with a high backrest. There a scantily clad hostess waited for you, groping in the darkness for your hand.

You had a partner at your side, but could not discern her, would never learn who she was. What you could do and were supposed to do, was touching her. You could gain carnal knowledge of her without knowing anything specific of her.
Wow, I thought, the Hong Kong Chinese have found an ingenious way to circulate even the most ugly and unattractive girls into the sex work world. But that was not the case. I accidentally met a hostess at the loo, where they had light, and she was a radiating beauty.

Then why keep her in the dark? This practice seemed to have a certain naughty advantage. As the partners did not see each other eye to eye, there was no threshold of shame to be crossed, no moment of hesitation: "will the other accept me?" It was touch and go. All you had to communicate with your partner were your hands. This was not romantic – one missed so much that is essential to the meeting of two human beings – but it was in an uncomfortable way fascinating.
"Isn't it frustrating," I asked a hostess, "to work in such anonymity?"

"Not at all," she replied. "Often it is better not to see the guy, with whom you have to do. That could be really displeasing. When I ride home on the Star Ferry, there are hundreds of men on board and many stare at me. Maybe one of them has visited me, but he does not know my looks and he cannot spot me. That gives me a feel of security."

What added to the well feeling of the guests was the mode of payment. In the "Midnight Meetings" one paid per minute of togetherness. That motivated the hostesses to please the customer as long as possible. A wicked kind of exploiting human greed in working girls? I am not sure how to judge this.

What makes me remember those things long past, is that communicating by Internet and e-mail gives me in another way mixed feelings of closeness and anonymity, and I sometimes have a problem about how to handle it.

The Internet has become in a very short time an integral part of our lives, like antibiotics or air travel. When my sister buys a train ticket, she prints it out on her computer at home. No need to wait at a window in the railway station. When I have to pay a bill, I open the internet banking program on my laptop. Before my retirement I found every morning six fresh newspapers on my desk. Last year I didn't spend a single cent on printed newspapers, I can read them more conveniently on broadband. According to "Asia Sentinel" the publisher of the "New York Times", Arthur Sulzberger Jr., mused recently, he didn't know if in five years the NY Times would still have a print edition. "And," he added, "You know what? I don't care either. The Internet is a wonderful place to be, and we're leading there."

Some civilization gurus demand from time to time, that the internet should be newly invented. Impossible. You cannot stop a jumbo jet in full flight. What could be reinvented is our personal style of meeting on the Internet, which today still has something vaguely in common with those "Midnight meetings."

New net users throw themselves into this fascinating media experience, before gaining a full understanding of how it works. One Stickmanbangkok contributor once informed us: "I am typing slowly, so you can follow me better…" While this was just sweet; a serious question is the problem of personal posing on the net.

In the real world, grown ups know how to interact with each other, and they find support in guide books like "I am OK, you are OK," by Thomas Anthony Harris, who popularized the psychology of Transactional Analysis.

In the anonymity or blackness of the net, you have only the e-mail-address or pen-name of your partner in front of you. You are not able to visualize him as a human being with his special and often lovable characteristics. You can transmit your words to him over thousands of miles in a second, but you cannot see if he frowns or smiles reading them.

Being playful or playing games is an important part of our well feeling. One philosopher wrote a book describing man as "homo ludens", the playful being. But having fun is something to be shared. If I sat alone all day in my room laughing tears about jokes I invented, you would call an ambulance, not ask me for the source of my amusement. Simultaneously shared fun is not yet a possibility in the online world. I have no control over what mood my emission causes in my counterpart. Some are convinced that the other part must understand that they speak with their tongue in their cheek, when they say something not so nice or intelligent. That may function in face to face conversation, but in the net night no one can recognise where they have their tongue and what they are doing with it. No valid argument.

One of the most industrious contributors to this website has been identified at the Stick's author's meeting as a well groomed, easygoing human being with whom to talk was fun. But as soon as this man returns to the loneliness of his keyboard, he gains the conviction that invisible people on the net are "not OK", and he treats them accordingly. This makes him a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the cyber age.

According to psychologists, this personality split, which many of us acquire when meeting on the net, is caused by a conflict between two parts of the human brain, called scientifically "orbitofrontal cortex" and "amygdilla".

To make it short, the invisibility of our net partners can cause "online disinhibition", making us either tell much more about the secrets of our life, than we would at eye contact, or treating the other as an inferior being. No threshold of shame to worry about in the big void. The worst form of online disinhibition is called "flaming".

Why is it named flaming? In World War II troops used flame throwers to reduce enemies to half of their physical size. Flaming on the net is not that dangerous, but it can destroy an important platform of communication, the forum itself.
Forums are constructed in a not very fire resistant way. Its participating members are divided into: Beginners, Advanced members, Full members, Silver, Gold and Platinum members, Knights and so on. In the blackness of the net all humans are equal. We do not distinguish us by fancy titles. We can win respect only by what we write.

But to move up in a forum's hierarchy depends not on the content of what you write, but on the number of your entries, and be each post as short as the remark: "Now, buddy bear, that was real cool what you said."

This reminds me of the children's contest – who can piss highest up a wall. In a street gang this might give the winner some respect. But internet users don't have the notion as seeing other users as concurring peers. (Pun intended).
Membership hierarchies promote vanity, and from vanity it is only a short step to online disinhibitation.

When I publish something on this website, I usually get e-mails from readers, but until today – touch wood – all these letters have been neutral to benevolent. Not a single hate mail. I enjoy those letters deeply and they add to my well being.

But this has been just my good luck. The editor of this website has been attacked by mental toddlers in ways that let my blood freeze. Such behaviour attacks and undermines the freedom of expression that is a part of our western heritage. What they do is creating a dunghill where they can sit, raise their red crown and craw, instead of supporting a useful communication effort.

I have not much experience with chatting, but I find a forum an uninhibited place. When I move on to the stage of a forum and say something – not much different from what I write – , I get aware that I am soon in the clear and present danger of being flamed.

I assume that my invisible counterparts gain from this the enjoyment of a rambunctious hilarity. But being on the receiving side of flaming does not add to well feeling. It causes emotional stress. And not only in me, as insiders could see in some recent discussions in the Schoocher's forum. People who can neither touch nor see each other give each other cyber discomfort. It is nice to play games, but as Eric Berne, the author of the book "Games people play" said, some games should better be avoided, because they are destructive or self-destructive. No doubt, much fun and tizzy can be gained by participation in self-destructive games. Just watch people making their games in the Casinos of Macao.

When we prefer a more relaxed kind of playfulness, we should grow into a completely new communication style for the internet. The psychology of conscious interacting limps far behind its technical possibilities.

I am inclined to predict that meeting places like forums might be an endangered species, as long as they offer no redress against "online disinhibition".

But I see something on the horizon. Before I finished this article I sent an earlier version to my youngest son, who is a medical doctor of psychiatry. As I used for this an e-mail program, I had just newly installed, I did not manage to transfer the file from my hard disk as attachment, so I pasted it into the main message.

As soon as I pressed the "send" command, my screen changed to the following instruction: "Your message is likely to offend the average reader. You might consider toning it down."

What was that? I pressed "Help" and learned: "When you open a new composition window to begin writing a new message, 'MoodWatch' scans each word and phrase you type and determines if it might be offensive to your recipient. The level of offensiveness is indicated by the appearance of one, two, or three red chili peppers, with three red chilies being the most offensive and one the least. As you write, less offensive phrases are underlined with a green squiggly line and more offensive phrases are underlined in both a red and green squiggly line."

This "MoodWatch" seems to be a useful instrument to control the emotional heat of your output. But I discovered it in only one e-mail program: "Eudora", from Qualcomm. The 668 pages handbook to "Outlook" doesn't mention it a single time, not even under another name.

On the other way round, for incoming messages you find filters for ads, spam, trash and junk on practically all email programs. And they work quite reliably. The editor of a popular web side informed readers of the Schoocher forum about the reaction of his email program to the arrival of a somewhat bloated text: "What is funny is that when this submission was originally emailed to me the Gmail sorted it as junk mail."

What works on the intake could also be applied to the output. I do imagine that if one could introduce a kind of mind watcher application into the mainstream forum programs, user's interaction might improve. Except maybe for those participants who enjoy to pee high on a wall.

Stickman's thoughts:

Online interaction fascinates me. We are still finding our way and the dreadful behaviour of some people online is symptomatic of that. I have always felt that one should behave online as they would in person, but many very clearly don't. This has manifested itself in the fact that most Thailand online discussion forums are a waste of time. A few are decent – largely due to the hard work of the moderators – but most are home to a bunch of fools who clearly think the Internet is a place to play the fool.