September 25, 2000

Online surprises get the best of everyone

Josh Renaud

You can never be sure about the people you meet online.

I make that statement grudgingly, because it implies that there are millions predators hunting for victims in every chat room, message board, and discussion group on the Internet. I believe that's a false image, perpetuated by the media, so I've always tried to combat it.

I've been telecommunicating for almost 10 years now, and I've never really had a "surprise" experience with a person online. At least until recently.

I got my start with local "bulletin board services," or BBSes as they were affectionately known, run out of people's homes. The BBSing community was wiped out by the popularization and commercialization of the Internet, though, so I had to move on.

At first, I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into participating in usenet newsgroups and the world wide web. But over time, I really got into it and learned how to build my own websites, and even how to make money building sites for clients.

By far, the most popular website, I've developed, is a site called "Petra Rocks My World!" It's dedicated to the pioneering Christian rock band Petra. Because Petra is very popular with people across the globe - especially in Latin America - I meet a lot of people through the site.

Enter Yolange. Yolange first emailed me at the beginning of the year, asking for some website advice. I wrote back and explained the basics of getting started. Before I knew it, we were writing back and forth weekly.

I thought Yolange was male. I was wrong. And boy did I feel stupid when I found out. Yolange sent me an email last week signed "Your sister in Christ." When I saw the word sister, I couldn't believe my eyes.

I've taken about five years of Spanish classes in high school and college. I know enough that I can understand most things I read, but I'm a horrible speaker, and I don't use verb tenses very well. Most importantly, I had no idea that "Yolange" was a feminine name. Being male myself, I simply assumed that the person I was talking to was also male.

Yolange is an amazing person who has seen a lot of adversity. She has told me about her struggles in Bolivia, and about the role Petra played in helping her. Every email overflowed with emotion and feeling, and she always thanked me for assisting her with her website.

All the signs were there in her emails. I just never picked up on them. I figured she was a very emotional guy.

Well, everything's been sorted out now. I still chide myself about the whole thing, and it certainly gave her a laugh.

If anything, this proved that I'm not quite the judge of online personalities that I believed I was. And maybe, just maybe, I'll have to modify my throw-caution-to-the-wind approach to meeting people. You can never be too sure.

This article was reprinted with permission from The Current.

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