When I was twelve, I opened a door to an alternate universe where I could be anyone I wanted to be. A professional skater, a nineteen-year-old named David from Wisconsin, even a cartoon character—I could change my identity by simply creating a screen name. I thought of the America Online chat rooms as grounds for a virtual Halloween that I could celebrate every day. I immersed myself in this mania. The sounds of a dial tone followed by the buzzes and hisses of a 56K modem became the soothing part of each day after school.
I was a tiny bit ahead of my time. None of my classmates then were familiar with online chatting. While my mother forced me to come home immediately after school each day, my classmates would walk to ...