Possibilities, painful reality coexist in the virtual world

Just a few years ago, Ecstasy wasn't a drug. It was a state of mind. And it walked hand and hand with the possibility of betrayal and ridicule.

There weren't virtual arguments and virtual tears and virtual making-up. There wasn't anything virtual about it.

You touch her hand. She looks into your eyes. She tells you she loves you, and you begin to believe it.

And if you're lucky, you have children. If they're boys, they're riding on your shoulders one minute, and then they begin to shave and ask for the car keys.

That other world, though, the virtual world, is thought to be emotionally safer. That world can be reached by placing your fingers on a keyboard, and there's a mistaken belief that the action offers a measure of control, distance and safety.

In that world, rejection isn't in her eyes, or on her face, but on some keyboard far away. And it can always be brushed off with an easy shorthand self-mockery. All it takes is an "LOL" here and a "hahaha" there.

This is the world of avatars, and you don't even need drugs to escape. You can destroy yourself and re-create yourself again and again.

You can even grow wings and horns and fly around the universe with other mythic beasts and have adventures if you wish. Only that mythic beast next to you might actually be Lenny from the mailroom.

Or you can have virtual names and even virtual facts to season your virtual lives.

As a dad who met his wife before romance was virtual, I worry about the young people living in that virtual world. Some of them cling to it as stubbornly as the fictional Blanche DuBois clung to the world she created in her head.

Many of the kids who cling to the virtual world are children of the helicopter age of parenting, where it is hoped that risk can be avoided, or at least limited, if only we hover within reach.

So children were shuttled everywhere, to school and after-school activities and play dates and so on. Their time was scheduled down to the minute, in the hope of keeping them safe.

They can't run the streets on their own. That's considered too dangerous. So they find another place to play, where they can explore and run free.

They find it in that other world, the virtual one, where you can be anything you want.

jskass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass

CHICAGO

More