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'90s FAMILY : Finding the Human Touch on the 'Net

October 05, 1994|From The Washington Post

Not satisfied with mere words on a screen, a few hundred contributors to the Internet's children-related MISC.KIDS news group have stepped away from their computer keyboards and put a human face on cyberspace.

After years of personal computer discussions, MISC.KIDS regulars knew the most intimate details about their computer pen pals--methods of birth control, labor and delivery difficulties, circumcision beliefs, as well as their children's history of breast-feeding, toilet-training, bed-wetting and emotional problems. But they had no idea what anybody looked like.

The more active participants in this high-tech discussion group came up with two low-tech solutions: an exchange of photos and family picnics.

"Once you've made those kinds of contacts, I don't think it's at all surprising that we'd want to physically meet," said MISC.KIDS contributor Beth Weiss, a University of Arizona adjunct lecturer. "I think many of us want to complete the mental images we have of the people we exchange E-mail with."

The 1994 photo album drew 178 participants from around the world, double last year's total. Each family contributed $22 and its own photos and captions. The book was put together using color copy machines and, because of security concerns, distributed only to contributors.

"It's great to have a collection of pictures of the regular posters to know what they look like and a reminder of how old their kids are. I pull my own out fairly often," Weiss said.

MISC.KIDS is a very active forum, with an estimated 50,000 readers. Its rules concerning user etiquette leave no doubt that most participants are practicing parents: "Please refrain from name-calling, tantrums or other hysterics--we get enough of that from our children."

But the personal postings are at the heart of the news group.

"More times than I can count, the posts of 'my baby does x at age y' have helped me to realize that your (child's) mileage may vary," said Weiss, who compares the progress of her 2-year-old son, Jordan, with other MISC.KIDS children.

The postings "have forced me to think about what I'm doing so that I'm acting rather than reacting as a parent," she said. "And I think that's what MISC.KIDS is all about . . . (it) makes me a better parent."

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