Chat room

I (used to) attend a writing group at my local library. I joined about 2 years ago and attending weekly group meetings was inspirational, supportive and a lot of fun. 
In a weak moment l offered to build a simple website for the group in order to share our news and successes with a wider audience. It sat there for a few months, not very exciting but functional. Then came the lockdown and everything changed.  
Our meetings were cancelled, of course and that was the end of that. I wondered if we could keep in touch via the internet and I installed a text chat room on the back end of the website. It seemed to work well and we tentatively resumed our Friday meetings online. Members submit their contributions and I post them on a private webpage. We read them and come to the meeting to share our critiques.
The first time we tried it out for real it was a little chaotic but as the weeks of isolation have turned into months we have become more organised. The meetings have turned into a high spot of the week with lots of ‘bants’ and laughter and we’re regularly getting attendance that equals our old face to face meetings.
A meeting over text chat is not the same as a physical meeting and it’s possible to see various aspects of personalities emerge via this medium. Quiet people become ‘louder’ and vice versa. It’s different.  We’re suddenly missing all of the signals that we take for granted when we’re meeting up in RL (real life).  
When I looked back to my own experience with text chatting online I realised it stretched back to the last century starting with IRC. In 1996 I was an ‘operator’ on the NC channel. In other words I was an administrator on the Internet Relay Chat channel primarily used by residents of North Carolina. (I’m a Brit who was living in Ireland at the time!) I was new to the internet and it blew my mind that, with IRC, I was able to chat to people all over the world, in real time. I would pop into different channels just to say hello and the people in NC pretty much adopted me.  
When internet chat rooms emerged in the 1980s, a form of shorthand was developed, to help with the lack of facial gestures, body language and subtlety in tone missing from the real life experience. It was on IRC that I learnt the chatiquette that most of us are familiar with, for example, it’s rude to use ALL CAPS when chatting because it’s shouting, how to emphasise *certain* words with asterisks and not to bother too much with spelling and grammar because of the temporary, fast flowing nature of online chat. Although if I make a howler of a spelling mistake during frantic typing I will usually add a *sp afterwards to denote my error. (No, really I DO know how to spell!)  
Then there are the acronyms. This is where LOL and ROTFL were born, but also IMO (in my opinion) BTW (by the way) and hundreds of others, as well as the shortcuts necessary when leaving temporarily for a bathroom break: brb (be right back) wb (welcome back) ty (thank you) yw (you’re welcome). The emoticons that developed were all text based 🙂 smile 😉 wink ;P tongue out, etc that are all familiar to us these days from texting.
From IRC I moved to ICQ (I seek you) for several years and then the virtual world of Second Life where, in the early days, communication was all based on text chat.  
These days I still use the chat facility in Google Hangouts on an almost daily basis to chat with a friend in the US. Over the years we’ve developed our own shorthand that has become so nuanced and subtle that we can read pauses that last a nano second too long and interpret the most garbled spelling mistakes automatically when we’re in the middle of a muscular political discussion!
Text chatting, IMHO (humble or honest – take your pick) is an underrated form of communication, developed in a time when the internet was young and is now taking a quick curtain call for those of us who have cut their own hair and don’t want to use Zoom. 
Edit: Modern technology has turned most of my text emoticons to images in this post.
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