Sunday, April 22, 2007

Internet You

I recently reviewed a book called Chain Mail: Addicted to You by Hiroshi Ishizaki. It's an English translation of a Japanese novel published by TokyoPop, which should be a familiar company to graphic novel fans.

In the book, Sawako, a lonely Japanese teenager, receives an e-mail from Yukari, a junior high school student at another private girls’ school. The e-mail asks Sawako to help write a cooperative fictional story. Sawako eagerly accepts and mysteriously manages to recruit two other girls to participate. Mai and Mayumi have their own problems. Mayumi is overshadowed by her best friend’s athletic success, and Mai has too much money and time on her hands. When Sawako’s entries take a different tone and suddenly stop, Mai and Mayumi wrestle with the decision to breach their anonymity and speak in the real world.

The question they face is whether or not the concern they have for this online friend should transcend the computer and enter their day to day lives. These girls spend hours each day checking and writing on the Chain Mail site, but they don't consider it their "real" lives. The book is well-written and told in a distinctly Japanese style, but I connected more with the issues the book inadvertantly broached than with the story itself.

Each day in my downtown branch, I see teens logging onto MySpace, Spin the Bottle and dozens of other social networking sites. They also play massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG), like World of Warcraft, in which they truly create completely alternate realities. In these games, it's most likely the character won't even be human!

The mass exodus to an online reality reminds me of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, in which one character takes some sort of "vacation" pill to escape reality. The pills are only meant as a temporary respite from the modern world, but this character comes to depend on them, comes to prefer the respite.

In Chain Mail Mai and Mayumi must decide whether they want the real world to permeate the life they have created for themselves online, and I actually worry that the teens I encounter would often have the same moment when they wonder whether they want the real world to intrude upon their carefully constructed non-reality online.

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