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Western Omelette

There is no greater addiction warehouse than the World Wide Web. I’ve been to Wonderland, Vegas, Reno, scenic Carson City and a handful of semi-legal card rooms (“Sign here, stating that you’re not here”), and I’ve seen no place more slathered with addiction sauce than Internet City.

Mmm, piping hot addiction sauce. Can I have extra, please? Sure, it changed flavor from “cotton candy” to “month-old bullion cube,” but somehow I still want more! Keep them URLs a-comin’!

At least in Vegas you get to watch volcanic eruptions every 30 minutes, and every time you go you’re guaranteed to see a new hotel shaped like a city, ancient ruin, bizarre animal, internal organ, Muppet or section of the New Testament. Come on — that’s fun! They have underground malls, aboveground whores and dolphins that can do Wayne Newton impersonations. Wow! The food’s cheap, the beer is free and the Mafia watching … unbeatable. Vegas is fun, yet overwhelming, so unless you’re a “Cops” producer or a gambler of Norm MacDonald proportions, chances are you’ll go for the weekend, leave and not return for a year or so.

But the Internet? Uh, can you stay off for an hour? Breakfast? Fifteen seconds while peeing? We’ll see. “Come back later, I’m on e-Bay!” Sound familiar?

Online addiction is unstoppable because the possibilities are endless. If you’re not addicted to upping the bid for a never-before-seen episode of “Just The 10 Of Us,” then you’re addicted to finding the perfect Laetitia Casta picture. If you’re not downloading Rick Astley MP3s, then you’re checking the time in Croatia. Ever asked Jeeves if he’s gay? Talk about a laugh riot.

And here’s a new one to bring up at next week’s meeting: “amIhotornot.com.” Yep, bringing your own insecurities to the electronic ether is the biggest thing online since dancing hamsters and doctored Kathie Lee nude photo spreads. AIHON asks people to submit photos of themselves, and then invites the Web community in for some good old fashioned judging. You know, like pigs at the county fair?

Webbers rate each picture they see (traditional 1-10 action) and the current calculated average is posted. Apparently, lots of people fit into the “who in the hell would submit THEIR picture” category, because there are staggering new visual treats to browse through every day. Pictures range from the pseudo-model to your high school principal’s secretary. (From “Yar!” to “Nar!”)

And, you better believe it’s damn hard to stop. Once you get a taste of judging someone’s worth with a singular click and then seeing the consensus of your fellow invisible critics, it’s in your blood. You revisit AIHON every day, five times a day, in lieu of sleep, class and routine bathing. It becomes your life.

AIHON is the Internet generation. Raters and Submitters will never meet, yet they’re bound by an invented relationship. Raters rate real people that are decidedly unreal within the context of the Web. Submitters submit pictures to a mass of real people that, like the submitters themselves, are gray and somewhat imaginary. Real people cease to be anything more than a screen, and screens begin to stand in for real people.

Sound crazy and a little Unibomber-y around the edges? Maybe, but it’s interesting to consider. (Not mailing bombs — don’t consider that). AIHON is just one baby example in the grown-up world of online depersonalization. Instant Messaging, for example, is quickly creating a lump of people who can only communicate via chiming boxes. I’ll tell you “I love you, baby,” but never here in person. Wait until I’m “PatriotsMan” and you’re “CandyGirl,” and then I’ll let it all out.

IM is comfortable because it’s not real. It’s not a person: it’s a box. You can tell a box anything you want, and the worst that could possibly happen is that the box may respond with capital letters. Or a frowning face. But hey, if you’re charming to the box, you might just get a little LOL. That would be nice.

Comfortable and addictive. The Internet’s fast-paced, unreal face is always on, always ready and constantly changing. It’s more powerful than Vegas, Wonderland and Reno combined, and a hell of a lot more accessible. There’s no need for cheap flights or cattle-call elderly bus charters, because the Internet’s available at home, at work and on your cell phone. Keep logging on and on and on.

But just remember, Webbers, there’s no volcanic eruption every half-hour here, no sir. And, unfortunately, human/computer-screen marriages remain unrecognized in the United States. That’s okay, though. Who needs a ring to make a relationship legitimate? You’re my CandyGirl.

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