'Love Stories' On The Internet
September 11, 1999
(Reuters) - ``Love conquers all things,'' the poet Virgil wrote. That may
not always be so, but a collection of heartfelt firsthand accounts on the
``American Love Stories'' Web site shows that love is a potent force against
potential obstacles like race, age, disability, distance -- and even death.
(http://www.pbs.org/lovestories) is the online counterpart to the Public
Broadcasting Service's ``An American Love Story'', a 10-hour television
documentary about the 30-year interracial marriage of Bill Sims and Karen
Wilson. The documentary begins airing Sunday and ends Thursday.
Love Stories'' contains information on the series. But the site is a powerful
experience in its own right, presenting moving first-person accounts of
romantic love -- and giving visitors the opportunity to submit their own
love stories or to exchange views about love in online discussions.
are one of the site's most interesting aspects. The ``Dialogues'' section
tries to encourage meaningful online exchanges about love and other topics.
organization Web Lab, which is producing the site, sets up the small-group
discussions in a way aimed at preventing the verbal firefights that often
break out in Internet discussions.
will begin formally Monday morning, the day after the documentary opens.
Test dialogues on love's ability to bridge differences can already be read
on the site.
stories -- 61 of them as of Friday -- can be found in the ``Stories'' section
of the easy-to-navigate site and center on the power of love to overcome
documentary's focus, it is no surprise that interracial love is at the
center of some of the stories. In one story, Dom, an Italian-American,
tells of his marriage to Tina, who is of black and Cherokee descent. Both
share a love of books, opera and the blues.
it all we recognized that we were more alike than different,'' Dom writes.
``White man and black woman. Unrepentant atheist and devout Christian.
Italian and American. The differences were obvious. But it was obvious,
too, that in overcoming these differences and forging a strong and nurturing
relationship we pretty much are ... what America is all about.''
In some of
the accounts, the differences involve reversal of traditional male-female
roles. A disabled man writes of how he and his able-bodied wife, Cheryl,
live their lives: ``I do the dishes, the laundry, and the bathrooms while
my wife is the primary bread winner, working as a senior systems analyst.
decorating, shopping, and picking out clothes. Cheryl puts up the shelves,
fixes the dryer when it breaks, washes the car, paints and wallpapers.''
surprises. In a story titled ``When You Least Expect It -- Expect It!'',
a 33-year-old woman named Pam tells how she met her husband -- a man 30
years older than she -- six years ago at her grandmother's funeral. He
was the funeral director. The major difference for this couple is age,
and Pam discusses it frankly.
myself a very old 33-year-old and Sam a very young 63-year-old,'' she writes.
``I tell people that when you put Sam and Pam together and average their
ages you get SPAM at 45 years of age! We both feel like our actual age
should be around the mid-forties.''
in ``Love at the Edge of Life'', a woman writes movingly of falling in
love with a cancer sufferer named Rachel, only to lose her to the disease
1-1/2 years later. `` ... My gratitude for the joy we shared now outweighs
my grief,'' she says.
which are added to the site daily, were culled from hundreds of submissions
that began arriving in April, Marc Weiss, founder and executive producer
of site creator Web Lab, said Friday.
began coming after PBS put an icon on its home page (http://www.pbs.org)
inviting people to submit their accounts. The icon linked to the ``Love
Stories'' Web site. In addition, other Web sites either linked to ``Love
Stories'' or offered their own story submission pages.
a good response,'' said Weiss, who expects even more stories to arrive
after the TV series begins Sunday. Submissions can be edited for clarity
or length, but Weiss said editors working for Web Lab have taken a hands-off
approach, letting people tell their stories in their own voice.
section represents a refinement of a Web Lab technique aimed at fostering
meaningful online discussions, according to Weiss. Very often, Internet
conversations ''deteriorate into something pretty miserable,'' he said.
the fact that, in typical online conversations, people can enter and leave
as they want in what he called ''drive-by posting'' and that Internet users
can hide behind the cloak of anonymity.
things conspire to lower people's level of accountability,'' said Weiss,
the creator and former executive producer of ``P.O.V.'' the award-winning
PBS showcase of independent, non-fiction films.
In the ``Love
Stories'' dialogues, participants will be divided into groups of about
60 people and will be asked to commit to spend three weeks so that they
start the dialogue together and end together. The groups will initially
discuss one of three topics: bridging differences within relationships,
the TV series, and issues affecting people 25 and under.
about 20 to 30 people -- the ``critical mass'' for a discussion -- in each
group of 60 to stay with it. In such a small group, he said, the dialogue
becomes more intimate and people get to know each other better.
``As it turns
out, the people who get involved get really involved,'' said Weiss.
producers do not moderate the discussions, giving participants the freedom
to take the conversations where they want, he said. He cited one ``test
dialogue'' that moved to a discussion of lovers finding each other on the
Some of the
better contributions wind up in ``Featured Posts,'' giving the public the
chance to read the most interesting stuff without having to wade through
the entire section. ``People participating in dialogues read these things
and kind of end up getting closer to the spirit of the site as a result
of reading them,'' Weiss said.
element of the Web Lab technique is the initial composition of each group.
Special software sorts information given by people who have signed up to
take part in a discussion and makes sure each group has a mix of genders
and geographical locations. ``We try to make sure each group is pretty
diverse,'' Weiss said.
so much more from getting into a back-and-forth from someone they would
never encounter in everyday life,'' he said.
Stories'' dialogues represent the third set of such discussions produced
by Web Lab. Earlier this year, it set up dialogues on the impeachment of
President Clinton titled ''Reality Check'' (http://www.realitycheck.com).
Stories'' dialogues will be active for five weeks beginning Monday, but
the site will remain up indefinitely, said Weiss, who wants to encourage
others to use the Web Lab discussion technique and whose organization is
looking for partners.
like to get other people using it and thinking of creative ways of pushing
it forward,'' he said. ``We look at the Web as a transformative force.''
-- -- --
column runs weekly. You can e-mail Jonathan Oatis at jonathan.oatis+reuters.com)