Fearless or Foolish? The Internet's role in stranger danger

There I was on Saturday night speaking to Nathenial Mehr about how I wanted to write piece that has not only been on mind for weeks, but also empathised by the event held by this website at the Enterprise in London on Saturday 11th June.

My mother and father told me as a child to be wary of strangers, don’t speak to them, don’t take their sweets and don’t go into their cars if offered. I took this on board and so did many people in London. I know this by the way we stare through each other as this we are the only person on this sardine can of a tube/train carriage/bus/taxi/watertaxi/rickshaw etc etc

But they never said “don’t go meeting or forming friendships through cyberspace” because frankly in the 1980’s only the US military had the networks, they were not aware of this new stranger danger and I was as unlikely to join the US military as they were to share the technology with the USSR.

So in this interlinking of computers through BT’s hardware (unless you do not live in the UK, which is completely likely) anyone in the world can join groups, meet people, discuss things and most importantly discover information within three clicks of a mouse. Whilst I do wonder what I would do without the internet and mobile phones that reality was a near 10-20 years ago.

So what for the next 10 years?…read this account of my reckless behaviour and weep for the children of today who like me will think nothing of the stranger danger the internet provides us without our own homes and schools.

I remember first using the internet.
I went to my dads work in a London University and it was summer holidays 1994 or 1995 I believe. In one room were 6 machines that could use the ‘internet’. My dad didn’t warn me of stranger danger only about how to use the address box at the top of the screen and what a search engine was. He also said that it would get slower after lunchtime as ‘America will wake up and go to work’. He was right, it did get slower from 1pm (8am in New York) until it was unusable at 4pm in London (11am New York and 8am LA). Most importantly though I learnt that apart from some people chatting and posting on sites a little like this, but the design on them was shite, THAT THERE WAS FUCK ALL ON THE INTERNET!!!

Only one British football team had a website then, thankfully for me it was my team Fulham fc and it took 10 minutes to download the picture from the online shop of the home shirt I had bough 2 weeks earlier. The online shop had a price and a request for a cheque to be sent to a postal address…it took me 30 mins to browse the site, which was very poor, how things have changed!

Attitudes changed too and my next internet experience was looking a few years later at a mates house. Was better, slightly faster and the content was more interesting. Another mate of mine started making sites. He built one for me in return for guest list at some underage (under 18) gigs I put on in South London. The site still stands…check it out.


and here is media preview I found online just now!


Ok so into 1998 and Internet hits the home and in lessons in college! Woo!
and still stranger danger was not a big issue…other than in the printed media. Why? Well I think it is simple. Apart from the Daily Mail wanting to scare every housewife in the UK for shits and giggles, they were scared back then. Thinking that they must scare people off internet because as they saw it ‘Who will but newspaper if they can get the news for free online and if we don’t have an online edition the other papers will and then we will die’. I ask you, how many newspapers have gone under since 1998…none. The last was ‘Today’ in the mid 1990s.

Anyway at college between 1998 and 2000 I discovered email and this was different to just bloggin sites. And chatrooms, because frankly as my mate Jenny back then put it, this work can be done in 20 mins so you have to entertain yourself in the meantime. Too scared to meet anyone though, even though I formed some friendships I have kept to this day with people who I have never actually met.

Nathanial Mehr and I had an idea which was formed by me at this time. After going clubbing in central London I often had to wait 2 hours until the first trains back home at 5am. After trying getting more pissed thanks to dodgy off licence and then often passing out at Mr Mehr’s student flat, Easyeverything opened near the club and the dodgy offy. So we went sufing the web at 3am as £1 bought 360 minutes (6 hours) at that time and used to look at funny stuff and join chatrooms to bully other people around the world whilst 2, 3 or up to 6 of us sat in Tottenham Court road supping cans of Stella and laughing at them feeling victimised through personal and public messages in the chatroom. Brilliant entertainment for fools!

But then it changed…In 2000 I met someone who I had been chatting to online. It was weird, but not strange. I knew a lot about her and a mate came along with each of us. like a weird double date where you and someone know a lot about each other except what the other one looks like and then the two mates get lumbered together. We went out…for a few weeks and decided that it would be better to be friends. We are still friends…when we speak…online through msn.

So, later that year unhindered from starting uni. I met 3 people, two girls who had exchanged email and said we fancied each other and a guy about joining a football team that I had met online and spoken to on the phone. Nervous on each occasion the fears subsided as each encounter unravelled itself. Until one encounter in 2001.

Winter, decide to take up the offer of a girl who apparently wants to ‘fuck my brains out’ in Bournemouth. Thinking with dick instead of brain a weekend jaunt down to the south coast for a night of drum and bass clubbing seemed like a giggle. So off I go, telling friends a different story for the sake of it, sorry shame of it! I met said girl at 4pm for a drink by the station. She brings her two mates and I think, yes, she is fit! Wrong girl. She is FAT. So I don’t runaway because it is too late. Anyway, they have me on the guestlist for a couple of clubs and I want to get pissed and go raving as I had heard Bournemouth is good for that.

Had a good night, got friendly with some real life strangers in the club and her mates but now the agonising time of getting out of sleeping with her is near. We go back to her mum’s B and B on top of a hill overlooking the pier and the BIC. There is 6 of us now and we start to watch a video in a room all a bit pissed, there is more booze and weed, but I wanna fall asleep quick and hope that they let me pass out instead of egging me on to fuck their minging mate.

No luck, we get left alone as the fine girls and these random guys pair off. I am desperate to leave and manage to persuade the girl that a walk on the beach is needed, as it is almost daylight. I claim it is my favourite part of the day. That is bollocks…I like to sleep then. I like 1am that is a good time if you can still get booze. Anyway…I forget how cold it is until I get outside and she takes me down the pier telling me that she had a dream of fucking me on the beach. Nice I thought, at least you have been there in a dream and wont want it for real.

Anyway…in short without sharing the horrific details that have tried to be blanked for years, she tries to rape me on the beach. I used to say ‘how does a girl rape a guy, he obviously wants it’. I haven’t said that for years because now I understand. I managed to get away before penetration and run through the streets and gardens of Bournemouth to the railway station where a train was there after 10 mins. It didn’t move, but I had sat on it. Not to my surprise, she came looking for me and brought some mates and thus a game of hide and seek ensued for another 10mins whilst the train is stationary at the platform. I crouch down and hide in a carriage. This is not fun on a Sunday morning, and getting caught meant a beating only 5 mins before a train left. I only got as far as Southampton and then had to find a shower to clean myself before going home. The fear of being followed sat in my mind that morning and finally after some soul searching in Southampton with breakfast meant I got back to London at 1pm. My friends, none the wiser, had texted me to meet for a drink and watch the football on TV down the pub. In fact this article might be the first that some of them will know about it.

I didn’t like the internet for a while and stayed away from email.

It was then work that drove me back to it and the need to get everything in writing that made email hit a new level for me. This brings me to recent experiences, from an online date set up by a friend (also online) to meeting people for my job who I have only exchanged emails with. In 2002 this happened for the first time. Someone emailed the venue I worked for trying to set up a fanzine so I emailed him back arranging an appointment to see me. Didn’t even phone the guy…stranger danger eh?

This was followed by the bizarre housemate incident where one of my favourite people in the world came into my life. Searching for a house after my university placement year in London I was going to move in with one mate in the US working and some randoms. Went to http://www.unipol.ac.uk and read through the message board getting in contact with people. A friendship bloomed and on the 17th August 2002 I arranged to meet this female stranger to go house hunting with my mate in the USA and myself in mind. Her dad picked me up at 1pm outside Leeds Town Hall on the Headrow and then drove us around North West Leeds househunting.

Helen was a first year and I a returning 2nd year, so I knew where to go and where not to live. We signed a contract that day and enjoyed that house…so much that using http://www.unipol.ac.uk so the it was a pattern followed for getting 2 random girls to move in with a group of 4 of us for a house we found the next year and then Helen and I moved into a place with a bunch of random for the 2004-05 academic year. Made friends each time, no big arguments of fallings out offering me another excellent internet meet up experience.

So where does this take us to today your wondering…..

Well, I am boy who has met people in the following places for work in the 12 months via ONLY EMAIL contact. No phone calls, just an email conversation. In retrospect, some stranger danger training is needed for me.

Prague, Czech Republic, where I stayed with a stranger who has a similar job to me. In his house for 4 nights. I travelled on my own and didn’t even look at hotel prices or find out where tourist information was before arriving in a cafe next to a metro station to meet a stranger in a strange land.
Benecasim Festival, Spain – ditto Prague, but with a mate in summer to meet a guy to offer us festival tickets and have lunch so we learnt from what he does so successfully
Camden Town tube station
Isle of Wight
Sports bar in Sutton, Surrey
Holiday Inn, Kensington
my own home
Wimbledon station
Pontis Cafe, Wimbledon
Books Etc, Wimbledon
Traflager Square
To name but a few….I cannot remember some of the other times, because there are more!

I am even now a part of this flash mob phonemeomon and ask you to look at this site for something for the future which has been done using the internet and one person’s one day travel card.

I know I am not alone. I mean, I didn’t meet myself in these places. Which makes me think that some stranger danger for meeting people from the Internet might be wise on the Internet. Then again, when this happenend via post, there was no postal warning about meeting strangers. Given the set up and turnout for Saturday it got me thinking about this issue once again particularly as those like me in their early 20’s have grown up with this new method of communication.

On reflection, Saturday night didn’t bring together all the ishotthedeputy.com faces I thought it would do, like a face to face meeting of an online party. But I don’t believe that was what the night was trying to do. But by setting up a faceless forum, a face to face event becomes the party I mention regardless of its intentions.

I am interested in your thoughts about this subject and to know places you have met internet or email contacts/friends. I ask this because it will make me feel less worried about my lack of fear about meeting someone I do not recognise in a random place with only an email printout to confirm that an agreement has been made.

Lots of love…Dave

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5 Responses to Fearless or Foolish? The Internet's role in stranger danger

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hey Dave thank you so much for the trip down memory lane, i just had a look at the battenburg site and it bought back memories of cool boys with guitars and drinking 20/20 and thunderbird (both of wich were vile but cheap) and some old faces ive not seen for a while.
    As to your meeting random people off the net im not sure if its safe or not, i think flash mobs are fine as theres loads of random people. (there was at the trafalgar sq pillow fight anyway!)
    I suppose its like responsible adults say.. always tell a friend where youre going! and keep your phone with you.. goodluck with that

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