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The Rant

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The Internet has brought with it much joy and heartache since Al Gore single-handedly created it (and recently, when Mark Foley apparently often used it single-handedly as well).

Kids and adults have had their interpersonal skills either heightened or dulled by the Internet.

My parents recently lost a friend to the Internet's reach. Their 71-year-old next-door neighbor was able to reconnect with his high school girlfriend once he finally learned to use his dial-up Internet. After finding her on Classmates.com and e-mailing her for two years, he came in one day and announced to his wife of 45 years that he was leaving her. My parents told me of this with sadness, and my response was that they should look at the bright side: It would have happened sooner if he had sprung for DSL.

I wonder what the net effect of getting to know each other via virtual communication will be on teenagers. In my day, we awkwardly learned about sex the old fashioned way -- trial and error, mostly the latter in my case.

I would like to take this opportunity to officially and publicly apologize to the first five women I dated. It had to have been a terrible experience, and for that, I am very sorry. Liquored up and in the back seat of a Monte Carlo with a Landau roof is no way to have your first romantic experience. I understand that now.

Back then we had dates. We went out and we talked and we later married somebody -- either by choice or because they were pregnant. It seems today, if there is a bright spot, it is that fewer girls are getting knocked up by idiot guys. (This remarkable 20-year trend may have been reversed recently by Kevin Federline.)

My first date was like something out of a sitcom. There were a lot of reasons a girl would not go out with me, chief among them being that my scrawny and bowlegged appeal was very limited. Imagine Napoleon Dynamite without the nunchucks skills, cool clothes, or the ability to dance. Yet, around my sophomore year, I somehow began to play my cards right with the ladies. Up until that point, I had played a lot of solitaire.

That was when I finally did find a girl that would be my Beta test for dating. I set my goals low and continued to lower them until this one girl went out with me. There are a couple of things you would probably never hear this girl say: One was "I will not go out with him" and the other was "checkmate."

It is a wonderful thing when a young male's inhibitions and standards are lowered to such an optimal level. I would like to mention the young woman's name, but through her attorneys, I have been admonished not to ever publicly identify her.

So, unlike kids today, I got dressed up and picked her up for a nice dinner out. I cannot recall exactly when or why I decided that a plaid suit with eight-inch lapels would be a good choice for a first date, but pictures taken at the time have, sadly, well-documented the haute couture atrocity.

We went to the nicest place in my town, which seemingly was where everyone who had a sports coat was that night. We may or may not have had some Blue Nun wine that I scored, but we did dance to the strains of a $150 band's rendition of "China Grove."

She admittedly did not like me at first, but I sensed that over time she might develop a tolerant indifference toward me. But eventually we had trust issues. We broke up when I caught her lying -- under another guy.

Yet we had a terrific time dating, which leads me to wonder how my interpersonal skills would have developed differently if the Internet existed back then -- or whether I would have developed any interpersonal skills at all! I probably wouldn't have even bothered to date, given the "virtual dating" opportunities the Internet presents to a young male.

Kids today seem to be mortified to actually have personal contact with another of their ilk. Instead of face-to-face encounters, many devote hours to developing personal Web sites on social-networking sites, where they reveal intimate information about themselves that they would never share with someone in person. Long-term, this cannot be healthy.

For all of us, with or without the Internet, youth is an awkward time. I just question how it will affect this generation.

Ron Hart is a columnist and investor in Atlanta. He was appointed to the Tennessee Board of Regents by Lamar Alexander. His e-mail: RevRon10@aol.com

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