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And despite the panicked testimony of then-senator Herb Kohl just two years prior (“Most Americans don’t know what it is out there on the Internet,” he told a Senate committee, “and if they did they would be shocked”), the influx of new users was helping chatrooms shed their previously shady, transgressive image.

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Chatrooms were showing up in business software packages, such as Lotus and Oracle.Sure, we have Rooms now — but Rooms, despite its branding and anonymous discussion groups, has little in common with the chatrooms of yore.And like other modern attempts to reincarnate the ‘90s chat room (Airtime, anyone?(Seductive enough that most mainstream coverage of chat at the time focused on a phenomenon dubbed “Compu Sex.”) “To say this typewritten “human contact” or “people typing in their thoughts” is the equivalent of genuine friendship or intimacy is something else,” wrote Vic Sussman, struggling to understand the very concept of online community for The Washington Post in 1986.“It’s certainly the illusion of intimacy — the instant gratification of human contact without responsibility or consequences or actual involvement …[But] the danger is that going online instead of going into the real world ultimately turns conversation into a spectator sport.” For users, of course, this kind of outsider bemusement was half the motivation.

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