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All you need is cyber-love

Book series capitalizes on growing Internet phenomenon

Web posted on: Tuesday, September 08, 1998 12:14:11 PM EDT

By CNN Interactive Writer
Jamie Allen

ATLANTA (CNN) -- We all knew computers would change the way we live -- but change the way we love?

Welcome to the age of silicon passion. A quick search of chat rooms and Websites reveals that people who have been looking for love in all the wrong places are, now more than ever, looking to the Internet, engaging in cyber-dates, cyber-relationships and, yes, cyber-sex to satisfy their lonely urges.

Not since the onset of AIDS has love been witness to such changes and challenges. Some would even say that the new cyber-love blossoming is a result of the AIDS epidemic -- a safe release in a dangerous world.

Others would argue the trend of online relationships is unhealthy at best; at worst, the glue that holds these relationships together doesn't even exist -- it's cyber, not real.

Or is it?

"The texture of online relationships is totally different," says author Nan McCarthy. She has put together a series of three short "email" books depicting the evolution of an Internet relationship. "Chat," "Connect," and "Crash" are being released by Pocket Books this month.

McCarthy says the online world not only exists, but it has the potential to advance relationships at a faster pace, opening the doors for immediate intimacy. Typing messages into a computer allows interested parties to unveil their most revealing thoughts, cutting through the red tape associated with physical interaction.

"It seems like people become intimate more quickly (in cyber-relationships)," McCarthy says. "Sometimes face-to-face communication is the least intimate of communication. You get distracted by things. Even if you're strongly attracted to the person, you're looking at the stubble on his chin, but it distracts you from what you're talking about.

"The phone is more intimate; you're most focused on what their saying. Email is the most intimate. I picture a person checking their email in the middle of the night, in the glow of computer light."

Books fit the '90s

McCarthy's visions are represented in her books -- each a string of online correspondence between Maximilian, a martini-swilling advertising copyrighter, and Beverly, a publishing industry editor. Online culture is evident in the lingo, emoticons (those sideways smiley faces, and more), personal profiles, and the briefness of each book.

"These books are short, and kind of fit the '90s," she says. "People have less time to read 'War and Peace' type books. It's not just the emoticons and short-hand language, but there's a certain rhythm and tone to email language."

"I picture a person checking their email in the middle of the night, in the glow of computer light."

-- Nan McCarthy, author of "Chat," "Connect," and "Crash"

McCarthy, perhaps the antithesis of her "Bev" character as she is happily married with two children, says she is a cyber-virgin, so to speak. She developed her plotlines by interviewing people who aren't cyber-virgins -- folks who have engaged in online affairs.

"I asked them very specific questions about the relationships, how quicky it became intimate," McCarthy says. "Women like that men could be a lot more forthcoming relaying their dreams. It's very powerfully sexually too -- getting inside their mind."

Author Nan McCarthy taps into the burgeoning world of cyber-love. But is it really possible to win someone's heart in cyberspace? Share your thoughts!

'I got a little hot'

She wrote and self-published "Chat" in 1995 on her Website. In the first book, Max and Bev "meet" online, and a friendship burgeons into something more. In the second, "Connect," Max and Bev take things further.

"When I was writing some of the scenes, I got a little hot around the collar," McCarthy admits.

She was encouraged with the response. Soon thousands of online fans were keeping up with the emails of Max and Bev (McCarthy's site -- -- even has a place where fans can email the fictional cyber-lovebirds).

"It was very comfortable for me to write these emails," says McCarthy, a former computer journalist who has been online since 1987. "It was second nature. It really clicked for me. Although the email format was somewhat constraining, I never felt contrained. I knew what Bev would type and knew what Max would type, and it was just a matter of listening in."

Now Pocket Books is releasing the books as a three-part set, and just in time. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are starring in a new movie this December about another online affair to remember. It's called "You've Got Mail."

"It's kinda funny, because people come up to me and say 'Tom Hanks stole your idea,'" McCarthy, 36, says. "But the movie's coming out with the release of the books, so I'm hoping it will be a real popular thing for the book."

From the big screen to the bookshelves, online relationships are bound to be a popular topic of conversation this fall.

Is the Internet evil?

But wait a minute -- is this healthy? Bev is cheating on her husband with Max. And even if she wasn't cheating, even if she and Max didn't actually consummate their love in person, isn't there something wrong with spending so much time on a computer? Why not spend that time in person? What's wrong with human touch and face-to-face communication -- distractions and all?

McCarthy recognizes the pitfalls of trading reality for a cyber-life -- "It's like any kind of addiction -- if it gets out of control it can cause problem" -- but says her books merely capture the latest social phenomenon.

"I have been reading a lot lately about how the Internet is evil I think that's (wrong)," McCarthy says. "I think people are going to commit adultery one way or another. Email facilitates that because they don't have to leave the home."

McCarthy preaches caution as we take our personal lives to hard drives and computer screens.

"A lot of people are getting online now and we have to learn as we go."

But that's not to say that having a cyber-relationship is a bad thing.

"It's not just sexual content," she says. "It's the nature of sharing thoughts and dreams that you wouldn't normally share on the first or second date. And I think that's a positive thing."

Do things work out with McCarthy's characters, Bev and Max? The title of the third book in the series -- "Crash" -- might offer a clue. McCarthy is currenty at work on a new book that has nothing to do with online affairs. But she says she plans to return to Bev and Max, and their cyber-love.

"There will definitely be more about Beverly," she says, "without giving away what happens to Max."


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