As St. Valentine's Day approaches, we are pushed by just about every money-hungry enterprise on the Internet to ponder romance, lust and the nature of love.
Stories abound of people who have conducted successful courtships online -- in chat rooms and on message boards. But it's hard to see what any of the commercial sites, designed to celebrate St. Valentine's Day, have to do with real love.
Take Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, for instance. Here's the scoop. This site gives you the chance to write a silly Greek myth using the old Mad Magazine Mad-Lib fill-in-the-blank method.
Mine began, "According to Greek mythology, the world was once ruled by smarmy and smiling aardvarks." Another page teaches you to make lacey cut-out snowflakes and a doily of "pints and cones and hearts." The Vermont dessert kings also offer several off-the-rack poems, some of which are really rancid. For example, "I never knew why they made insulting Valentine's Day cards, /then I met you." And, at no charge, you can send such a vapid Valentine anonymously to someone you secretly admire.
Swoon, an online production of the Conde Nast Corp., takes another technological step -- backward. You can get a "sneak preview of all your sexual doings and misdoings in 1999" and "check out that special someone's profile, too, to see whether they're the flavor of the month, or the match of the millennium." Puh-leez.
And by using the site's personal ads, you could hook up with the guy in Fort Lauderdale who gets his kicks during NASCAR races. Or any of a number of alias-armed folks who've posted their grand, and gross, desires online.
A different, less cynical approach pervades the Children's Television Workshop site. Swat away the bothersome pop-up diaper ads and you'll discover some creative Valentine's Day activities for you and your children. Here you can recycle an old photo into a Valentine's bookmark or fashion a heart-shaped necklace or find a recipe for teddy-bear pancakes. It's treacly, but it's real, unlike many of the adult-oriented sites.
One of the thrills, and the chills, of the Internet, of course, is its make-believe quality. Anonymity comes in really handy whether you're sending a blind Ben & Jerry's Valentine or cruising the Swoon personals. But Valentine's Day is about devotion, not deception. Odd, isn't it, that some of the most mature sites on the Internet are those designed for kids?
Linton Weeks, firstname.lastname@example.org.