INTIMATE STRANGERS

MOST OF THE MILLIONS OF ON-LINE USERS ARE THERE TO KEEP COMPANY IN A WORLD WHERE THEY CAN BE WHOMEVER THEY WANT TO BE--UP TO A POINT

When she first joined ECHO, an East Coast electronic community, Marcia Bowe dubbed herself ``Miss Outer Buro 1991,'' a handle that facetiously implied beauty queen-like poise, glamour, congeniality. And soon enough, Bowe was enjoying the adulation of fellow ``ECHOids'' who posted messages praising her wit, candor and smarts. Such celebrity was heady stuff for Bowe, a free-lance writer who describes herself in real life as shy and wary of emotional encounters. ``I became addicted to this constant stream of approval,'' she says. ``It was like a big co-dependency machine.'' As Bowe began spending up to 100 hours a month online, however,...

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