TODAY'S PAPER
Good Evening
Good Evening
Long Island

Internet Fever / If you haven't come down with it yet, It's only a

EVEN BEFORE the sun's rays have stretched through her

window panes,

Marjory Wiener is stretching her fingers toward the on button of the

personal computer in her Great Neck living room.

Wrapped in her floral bathrobe and heading toward the kitchen, she

makes sure that techno tap is the first thing she does, even before

starting her morning coffee.

The java brews, as does her screen. Up pops an instant message from

one of her 16-year-old Bayside High School art students, who knows

Wiener is always online at 6 a.m.

"Can I do my Spanish homework in your art class today?" the note

pleads.

"Only if you're making a pinata," Wiener types back. "Because you

are not doing anything in my classroom if it's not artwork."

She's also got a regular old e-mail from a friend she went to high

school with in Queens who now lives in Florida. Wiener e-mails her

daily, telling her about her two grown children, her job and her

romantic relationship.

And she's got another e-mail waiting from her boyfriend's mother in

Texas. "She writes me about three times a day," Wiener says. "She's very

hip for 76."

Wiener zaps her boyfriend's mom back an e-mail, thanking her for a

Texas T-shirt she sent. "If I can thank somebody online I will do that,

rather than write it out," she explains. "I love the convenience."

Wiener, who has a 27-year-old daughter and a 23-year-old son, is 55

- definitely not part of the Generation X long expected to be so

computer connected.

But Wiener has Internet fever. And on Long Island, as across the

nation, it has been insanely contagious. At 3 o'clock on a Sunday

afternoon, the parking lot at the CompUSA store in Hauppauge looks like

Roosevelt Field Mall on the day after Thanksgiving. Cars are queued up

like sausage links, each waiting for the car in front to find a coveted

parking spot. People waddle out with their arms in bear hugs around

cardboard boxes filled with computer monitors. Inside the store, the

checkout lines are four people deep.

The stereotype used to be that the Internet was only for computer

geeks in Coke-bottle glasses and too-shortpants. But in the past two

years, U.S. Web users have come to more closely resemble the general

public, according to a survey conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based

Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Other studies also show that more ordinary boots are brushing the

Internet's virtual welcome mat. Although U.S. Internet users overall

continue to have a higher education level than the general population,

fewer new Internet users have completed college: By the end of 1998, 36

percent of Internet users had a bachelor's degree, down from 46 percent

in the second quarter of 1996, according to the latest survey by

Texas-based IntelliQuest Research, which conducts Internet-related

studies. And users aren't quite so affluent anymore, though they still

have a higher-than-average household income: 55 percent earn at least

$50,000 a year, compared to 60 percent in 1996, according to

IntelliQuest.

At least 76.5 million people - children, teens and adults -

were using the Internet in 1998; a projected 93 million will be using it

by the end of 1999, whether at school, at home or at work, according to

Jupiter Communications, a New York-based new media research company.

That's more than 30 percent of the U.S. population. America Online

reports that it had 10.7 million subscribers in 1997; by the end of

1998, that number had increased almost 50 percent to 15 million

subscribers. (AOL can't break the numbers down regionally for Long

Island, says spokeswoman Tricia Primrose.)

That the computer has become an essential part of Wiener's life is

evident from its place of honor in her living room. Its homely gray

plastic body sticks out among her antiques, no matter how hard she's

tried to meld it into the decor. Ever the artist, she's even hot-glued

flowers to it.

Matthew Posnick of East Hampton is a dog trainer and a

self-described animal psychologist who just started using the Internet

in January and calls himself K9shrink online. "I solve people and dog

problems," Posnick says. "You got a dog who makes all over the house,

chews things up, is aggressive or shy, doesn't want to eat?"

Since he purchased his computer, he's been spending between one to

three hours a day online, "slowly picking my way through this." He

e-mails other animal trainers, and has started to trade stocks online.

He's taking a local adult-education computer class and has started to

learn such essential communication tools as knowing that LOL means

"laughing out loud."

"I learned how to meet girls on AOL," he says, laughing and quickly

adding, "Don't put that in."

But it's a fact that people are looking for everything from lava

lamps to love online, on everything from Internet auction sites to

computer personals sites. The day he is interviewed for this story,

Posnick, who is 50, is preparing to go on his first Internet-inspired

date: a Sunday brunch with a Freeport woman whose personal ad and

photograph he saw on America Online's "Love@AOL" message board.

"You just have to hit a button to introduce yourself," he explains.

He'd been instant-messaging her and talking to her on the phone for 10

days.

During a phone call after the date, Posnick's voice sounds decidedly

less exuberant. "Am I in love? No. She's very nice. We made friends," he

says. After brunch, they went to the pet store, and he helped her pick

out clippers for her cat.

Back at CompUSA in Hauppauge, 70-year-old Bea Bubel of Bay Shore is

clutching a plastic bag that holds a program called Streets98. It's an

atlas she and her husband will use to plan trips in their travel

trailer. It's not their first electronic foray, by any means: Bea plays

Scrabble on the computer. And when the Bubels get onto the Net, they use

e-mail to communicate with their children and grandchildren in Florida.

"We will not get into heaven if we do not have a computer and at

least know some of the language," Bea says she warned her 73-year-old

husband, Herman, before they bought a computer this past summer.

"Otherwise, when we reach the Pearly Gates, we won't know the

password," Herman jokes in reply.

The Bubels have been through technological revolutions before -

they remember when television was the new Big Thing. But the Internet

demands a lot more from people, they remind. "With the computer, you

have to know how to put it on and not freeze it up," Bea Bubel says.

"The televison, the older people went for it first, they had Milton

Berle." With the Internet, the younger generation has led the way, she

says.

"The penetration is much faster than it was for earlier technology

like television or radio," says Stuart Gibbel, spokesman for Cyber

Dialogue, a New York-based market research company that studies Internet

users.

That may be because the Internet is interactive, while TV and radio

are passive, says Stephen Cole, a professor of sociology at the State

University of New York at Stony Brook. And the ability to e-mail friends

and family in far-flung places essentially for free is a lure people

can't seem to resist, Cole says, adding that the Internet is reviving if

not the art of writing, at least the art of communication.

Contrary to those who predicted such technological advances would

isolate people in their homes, Cole thinks the Net brings people closer.

"It's going to bring back more social solidarity that really has been

lost in contemporary life," Cole predicts.

That's something Peggy and Peter Gange of Lindenhurst don't want

their family to miss. With a budget of $2,000, they've hooked up with a

friend of a friend who is going to assess the needs of their family -

which includes children ages 11, 17 and 29 - with the goal of helping

them buy a computer system. Peggy and Peter get on line - the

old-fashioned line, that is - at CompUSA to buy the only purchase they

feel confident choosing so far - a mouse pad with a picture of a cat

wearing sunglasses for $7.99. Fellow shopper Ed Andrews of East

Northport turns around to give them some advice.

"Get onto cable the minute you can," he says to them, praising the

high-speed access it offers compared with telephone connections. "Oh,

God. I didn't even enjoy the Internet until I got cable."

Everybody's an amateur, everybody's an expert. Andrews, 49, is an

electrical construction foreman. "I'm ever-expanding. I do my banking

online. I now track investments online with Charles Schwab. My 401(k)."

He can call up electrical wiring diagrams for work. He buys his cigars

online. He sends friends electronic greeting cards.

"They wake up, they check their e-mail, and blip, there's a singing

telegram, an animated telegram," he says. "I can sign on Monday morning

and have 33 messages waiting for me." He even recently got a second

computer so he and his wife would each have one.

Where are Long Islanders finding all this extra time to spend

online? "I haven't watched much TV lately," says Michael Behan, 40, of

East Hampton, who owns a vending business and bought himself a new

computer in January so he could more quickly surf the Internet.

Jokes abound on the Internet about how you know when you're taking

the Net a little too seriously: "You spend half of the plane trip with

your laptop on your lap ... and your child in the overhead

compartment." Ba-dum-bum. "You move into a new house and decide to

Netscape before you landscape."

For some people, there's a grain of truth in that jesting. Martha

Berry's family just got a computer in December. "That was Santa's gift

to the family," Berry says. She has three children, ages 17, 10 and 3.

But the gift became more of a present just for her.

"I got hooked," she says. "For a couple of weeks in January,

literally, I didn't come out of the basement." She calculates she was

spending three to four hours a day online, "which is not good when you

have three kids."

The 37-year-old stay-at-home mom from Port Washington had such a

honeymoon period on the computer that the laundry was spotless for three

weeks because she needed an excuse to keep returning to the basement.

"For a while there, it was, like, sick," she says. "I could see

where you could get sucked into it. I really thought I was blowing

everyone off."

When her children started complaining that she was on the computer

all the time, she cut down. And the entire family instituted a sign-up

schedule for the computer so that everyone would have a fair chance for

access and nobody would be online too much for their own good.

Berry's now primarily in touch by e-mail with friends from New

Jersey three times a week, whereas in the past they'd talk a couple of

times a year and send Christmas cards to avoid expensive phone bills.

She checks msnbc.com for the news.

And she's tiptoed into politics: She e-mailed the local school board

to tell board members she opposes the plan to float a bond to build a

new middle school, preferring instead that the school board rehabilitate

an already existing, district-owned school. "I e-mailed the

superintendent," she says, sounding shocked at her own audacity. "I

never would have done that before."

Even her 3-year-old, Mike, has a favorite Web site: nick.com, where

Nickelodeon television shows are featured.

For some people, the Internet has become a way to find a network of

people like themselves without the obstacle of geography. Janet Pico, a

24-year-old senior studying international business at Hofstra

University, for instance, finds herself most often drawn to her computer

to participate in the "Girlfriends of the U.S. Navy" discussion board,

where the women call themselves "willows," short for "Women in love with

sailors."

"It's like a support system, because a lot of the time the guys are

gone six weeks here, two months there," Pico says of the online group.

She started participating about a year ago, and the group eventually met

at the home of one of the women in Virginia.

Pico lives in a dorm room with a computer that is wired directly to

the Internet. "It's never off. I'm logged on 24 hours a day," she says.

If she happens to wake up in the middle of the night, she's likely to

check to see if she has e-mail from one of her friends, naval or

otherwise. In between breaks in classes, she'll check in. Before she

goes to sleep.

"The Internet has become such a big thing now," Pico says. "It's come

to the point where everybody feels they need a home computer."

Certainly Andrew Costello of East Northport feels he does. As he is

grocery shopping for his family at the Waldbaum's in Huntington village

on a Sunday, he is on his cell phone asking a co-worker to e-mail him

the plans for a corporate boardroom his company is putting together.

That night, he looks at the plans and e-mails them back with his

comments. Saves him from going into the office on his day off.

And if you don't have a computer at home, there's always school, or

the public library, or the office, or even the mall. Michael Jefferson

and Cory Albertson stand in a corridor at Roosevelt Field Mall on a

weekend afternoon and from there, via computer screen at the Erol's

Internet kiosk, they ogle the inside of a planned Pontiac Aztek car.

David Letterman would do well to initiate a bit called Stupid

Internet Tricks. "If you go to Lamborghini.com you can honk the horn.

You can hear the engine," says Jefferson, 21, of Uniondale.

"They can go visit Australia [online]. Like it? Plane tickets on

line," Albertson of Glen Cove says, sounding like the Internet service

provider salesman that he is: He works at the kiosk. "Say you missed the

weather forecast. You can go to a Web site where they have photos in

space showing clouds over the U.S.

"Some people don't even know what the Internet is," Albertson says.

"I'll tell them exactly what it is. It's almost like having access to

the world."

And though the world has come to Long Island, Long Islanders still

have a way to go before they become cocooned in a virtual world where

everything in their lives is done by computer screen.

Despite Wiener's love affair with her flower-bedecked computer, for

instance, she refuses to forgo her Macy's Big Brown Bag for the

point-and-click e-shopping that would result in a Federal Express

package thunking on her doorstep the next day. "I do not shop," Wiener

says. "I want to be there. That's part of the fun, being in the store."

But it seems pretty certain that the Internet will continue to

stitch itself into our lives until a computer terminal at home is as

common as the radio, television, telephone and VCR. "I think it's going

to spread until almost everybody is using it," Cole the sociologist

concludes. "I don't think this is a fad."

Nothing But Net / Internet obsession is the dark side of the Web

BACK AT the beach house on Fire Island, everything was ready. Linda

Taylor had cooked a simmering beef bourguignonne. She'd picked the few

wildflowers still blooming in October, flowers the deer had not yet

eaten. A $25 bottle of wine waited to be uncorked.

Taylor sat at the counter in Nicky's Clam Bar at the ferry terminal

in Bay Shore and waited. She was about to meet the man she'd been

corresponding with by e-mail for nine months.

For at least four hours a day - longer on weekends - the two

aspiring writers would send their poetry and short stories back and

forth and type long messages about themselves. Each tap of a key had

become a virtual caress. Taylor was convinced this man could see through

his screen and straight into her soul.

Taylor would come home from her job as a graphic artist and log on to

the laptop at her dining room table in her charming house on a steep San

Francisco hill. She was so riveted that many nights she didn't eat

dinner. She needed a haircut but didn't have time to get one. She'd find

she had no clean clothes because she hadn't done laundry or stopped at

the dry cleaners. Sometimes, she would get herself a cup of coffee in

the bleary-eyed morning and realize she had no more milk.

Her friends were worried about what seemed to be an Internet

addiction. Taylor had started visiting a writers' chat room in 1996 and

her time on the Net escalated after she bumped into the writer from the

Deep South in early 1997. Taylor, who was in her early 50s and single,

had just been to a wedding of two people who met through the Internet

and was filled with the romantic notion that she, too, could find her

missing part online.

So she built Deep South into the person she longed for him to be. He

told her he was short; she messaged him that he needed to work on his

self-image. He told her he likes to drink; she ignored it. Instead, she

reveled in the moments when she would tell him how her neck was

bothering her and he would type, "rub, rub."

"I was caught in some kind of inexorable, very strange type of

grip," says Taylor, who brought the experience up to her therapist. The

Internet enhanced the seduction, she says. "You become conditioned, like

Pavlov's dogs. You hear the little bell [indicating an instant message]

and you begin to salivate emotionally."

Every fall, Taylor spends a month on Fire Island, devoting herself to

her writing. She decided to invite Deep South to spend two weeks with

her. They would be two writers, holed up in a beach house during the

off-season, helping each other create.

On the morning she was at Nicky's Clam Bar, Taylor was daydreaming

about the tempestuous affair she was about to have. Until into the clam

bar walked a very short man in pink shorts and rubber flip-flops and

months of illusion, in Taylor's word, "vaporized."

In the midst of the Internet delirium that has gripped Long Island

and the world are mental health experts who argue that some of us are

literally getting sick - becoming addicted to the rush of going online

from our living rooms and offices - and becoming almost incapable of

switching the Internet back off.

For Taylor, she says it was as if she had opened a long-stuck drawer

in her pantry and found that a circus was living inside. "That's how I

felt when I got addicted . . . There were all these people and all

these scenes going on right before my nose and they were locked behind a

password. Once I discovered it, I couldn't get away."

Harold Pass, director of psychiatry for the adult outpatient

department at University Health and Medical Center at Stony Brook, says

he's seeing about four cases right now of people who are struggling with

computer dependency, along with their other mental-health problems. One

of them has obsessive-compulsive disorder. Another is painfully shy and

anxious.

"For some, it's a way of playing fantasy roles and avoiding

emotional and intimate connections," Pass says. "For other people, it's

erotic gratification on X-rated Web sites." Pass says none of his

patients would agree to be interviewed.

Though the media have hyped Internet addiction in headlines and

stories, controversy swirls in psychology circles over whether spending

too much time on the Net is actually an addiction in the vein of

alcoholism or substance abuse. Or whether it's a compulsion, such as a

food or gambling problem. Or whether it's just a bad habit.

Peter Favaro, a Port Washington child and adolescent psychologist who

does forensic psychology for Nassau and Suffolk County courts in

"high-conflict" custody cases, is skeptical of the concept of Internet

addiction.

Experts have a tough enough time understanding the workings of

chemical addictions, says Favaro, who is involved in an ongoing Long

Island case in which a man arguing for custody is alleging that his wife

is a computer addict who is neglecting their children. "Alcohol and

cigarettes create an addiction. The computer does not," he says. "If

this were the 1950s, I wonder if you'd be writing an article on whether

or not the telephone or television was addicting."

Favaro says mental-health professionals who tout themselves as

computer-addiction specialists may be employing a marketing strategy -

what he dubs "The Sally Jessy Raphael Syndrome." With HMOs and managed

care companies capping fees to therapists, everyone is specializing in

something, Favaro says - marriage problems, eating disorders, "Turkish

nuns who left the order and married Buddhists priests. I doubt anyone

could earn a living as a computer /Internet addiction specialist."

But Kimberly Young, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh

at Bradford, is trying to do just that. She runs The Center for Online

Addiction, an Internet site for people who believe the computer is

causing negative repercussions in their real-life relationships, their

studies, their jobs. "I've seen people take caffeine pills just to stay

online longer," Young says.

Young started to treat what she called Internet addiction in 1994

after a girlfriend of hers called, saying that her husband was hooked,

and she was considering divorce. Young now treats clients by e-mail for

a fee and says her virtual clinic gets requests for about 10 e-mail

consultations a week. Though other mental-health professionals consider

e-mailed treatment of online addicts to be unethical - not to mention

ironic - Young says she treats by e-mail because so few mainstream

counselors understand the Internet itself, let alone Internet addiction.

"They don't understand what a chat room is," Young says. "That becomes a

very lonely experience for the client."

For some Internet addicts, the attraction is to online casino

gambling, as the Web makes such a vice much more accessible. "Now, I

don't have to drive to Las Vegas," Young says. Others are online stock

traders who monitor their money for 12 hours a day. Online shopping,

online auctions. Online pornography makes up the biggest chunk of online

addiction, with about one in five people who have a computer problem

struggling with cybersex addiction, Young says. Many people who lose

control on the Internet already have some other mental health problem,

from addictive personalities to depression, Young says.

From the anecdotal experiences of Peter S. Kanaris, director of

public education for the Suffolk County Psychological Association, the

idea that Internet abuse may be a symptom of another problem rather than

the problem itself holds true. Kanaris, who specializes in sex

counseling, says he hasn't had clients come into his Smithtown office

complaining that one of them is addicted to the Internet, but that he

has seen the Net exacerbate intimacy problems in already faltering

couples. "The Internet brings a world of access to every kind of sexual

behavior right into the home," Kanaris says. "Another area of life

starts to get shortchanged."

According to Young, Taylor - who had not sought Young's

professional help - had many signs of a burgeoning problem: She was

sacrificing time with friends in the real world. She was anticipating

her next session when she was off-line. And she was hooked on one

specific area of Web life - for her, chat rooms, e-mail and instant

messaging.

Taylor calls her first meeting with Deep South "the most profoundly

derailing emotional moment that you can possibly imagine experiencing."

Despite her disappointment and confusion, Taylor found herself on the

ferry speeding toward the beef bourguignonne, wildflowers and that

bottle of wine.

After an awkward dinner, Taylor and Deep South sat across from each

other in straightback chairs with a coffee table between them. The first

ferry that could return him to the mainland wasn't until 8 a.m.

"I realized that I had created with my novelist's brain a scenario

that was not attached to any definition of reality," Taylor says, adding

that the realization cured her of her Internet addiction. "I realized

that this medium is incredibly dangerous. Even if he had been Mr.

Wonderful, there's something really, really neurotic about spending that

much time in that world of unreality."

Taylor now uses the Internet three or four hours a week, including

brief visits to the writers' chat rooms. When that little America Online

box pops up now at the end of each session and tells Taylor how much

time she's spent online, she says, more often than not, it's less than

10 minutes.

How Much Is Too Much?

Psychologist Kimberly Young came up with this "Internet Addiction

Test" in her book, "Caught in the Net" (John Wiley & Sons).

Answer the following questions using this scale:

1 = Not Applicable or Rarely

2 = Occasionally

3 = Frequently

4 = Often

5 = Always

1. How often do you find that you stay online longer than you intended?

2. How often do you neglect household chores to spend more time online?

3. How often do you prefer the excitement of the Internet to intimacy

with your partner?

4. How often do you form new relationships with fellow online users?

5. How often do others in your life complain to you about the amount of

time you spend online?

6. How often do your grades or schoolwork suffer because of the amount

of time you spend online?

7. How often do you check your e-mail before something else that you

need to do?

8. How often does your job performance or productivity suffer because of

the Internet?

9. How often do you become defensive or secretive when anyone asks you

what you do online?

10. How often do you block out disturbing thoughts about your life with

soothing thoughts of the Internet?

11. How often do you find yourself anticipating when you will go online

again?

12. How often do you fear that life without the Internet would be

boring, empty and joyless?

13. How often do you snap, yell or act annoyed if someone bothers you

while you are online?

14. How often do you lose sleep due to late-night log-ins?

15. How often do you feel preoccupied with the Internet when off-line,

or fantasize about being online?

16. How often do you find yourself saying "just a few more minutes" when

online?

17. How often do you try to cut down the amount of time you spend online

and fail?

18. How often do you try to hide how long you've been online?

19. How often do you choose to spend more time online over going out

with others?

20. How often do you feel depressed, moody or nervous when you are

off-line, which goes away once you are back online?

RESULTS: 20-49 points: You are an average online user. You may surf the

Web a bit too long at times, but you have control over your usage.

50-79 points: You are experiencing occasional or frequent problems

because of the Internet. You should consider their full impact on your

life.

80-100 points: Your Internet usage is causing significant problems in

your life. You should evaluate the impact of the Internet on your life

and address the problems directly caused by your Internet usage.

Reprinted with permission.

Net Gains - Or Losses?

How has being on line changed your life - for better or worse?

E-mail us a lilife@newsday.com. and though we can't imagine you'd need a

snail-mail address, here it is: Write to "Feedback," c/o LI LIfe, 235

Pinelawn Rd., Melville, N.Y. 11747-4250.

Latest Long Island News