Chatting with unseen acquaintances nationwide on a computer network can make for an energizing experience for kids, as you describe (front page, Aug. 31). It's exciting to discover who's out there, to engage in verbal thrusts and parries, to win a stranger's interest in you.
But before you declare this activity within the reach of anyone with a computer and a modem, I'd suggest you do a little basic arithmetic.
You say kids may stay on the line as long as three hours -- anyone who has seen kids play video games and watch television should be suspicious. People stay on as long as 10 hours, addictively, endlessly searching the virtual rooms and trying to find out something about who's in them.
But let's take your conservative three-hour ceiling and multiply by 30 (days in a month). That's 90 hours. You quote America Online's reasonable-sounding monthly fee of $9.95, which includes five free hours. That leaves us with 85 unfree hours at the price (which you don't give) of $3.50 an hour. That's $9.95 plus $297.50, or $3,689.40 year! And that's assuming the kids knock off after three hours, that you have only one child and that you yourself don't go "savvy" and start hanging out electronically.
And it's all so convenient: to sign up for the service, you program your credit card number into the software, so you don't really know how much you've spent until the bill arrives. A few months of this "digital age" entertainment, and you may find yourself rediscovering the old-fashioned virtues of hanging out on street corners.
ANN ALTHOUSE Madison, Wis., Sept. 3, 1993
December 11, 2006
I was just noticing this old letter to the editor that I got published in the NYT, back on September 14, 1993. (TimesSelect archive link.) I think it's kind of a funny look back: