IRC internet chat protocol was designed around 1989 by a group of guys in Finland. Like everything else about the Internet the prototype became the reality; from testing to standard in one fell swoop. Chat can be carried on in a channel or individually, in addition file transfers of text, code, or pictures can be accomplished. A more recent development is the transmission of voices in walkie-talkie style, whiteboards, and video.
Net Atheists are a growing segment of the atheist population, not all are otherwise isolated from like thinking people as you might expect. For example, there is Clark Adams, moderator of alt.atheism.moderated and Public Relations Director for the Internet Infidels; though he works for a web-based organization, he does not fit this description. Nonetheless Clark (AKA GodFree as channel operator of Dal.net's #atheism) will marry a fair lady he first met in #atheism later this year. A recent marriage celebrated in this hard-hitting debate channel was that of Agnostic_Pope (He) and Godless_Heathen (She). Humanist wedding details can be viewed in Godless_Heathen's website. Don't forget to see her "children's" pages. Parties for channel regulars and "ops"are also organized from time to time in meeting places all over the map.
Other, sometimes desperate, needs are filled by the community found on IRC. TheNick, a frequent visitor of #atheism on Dal.net finds a peer group of real value to him and to whom he can report, with satisfaction, that he is still winning his battle against alcoholism. He could not be himself at AA meetings and his inevitable dissatisfactions with AA as a peer group seemed to have become a weak link in the chain of his resolve to never drink again. TheNick does contract programming work and making friends is hard when moving often, but #atheism is almost always online and became community for him. TheNick is not shy and would share his story with interested people. A U.S. Airman who was a channel regular in #atheism and had realized his atheism while in the Air Force was brought to take a pacifistic stance as a result of his atheism. He had a major problem obtaining Conscientious Objector status as an atheist. Heathen, an op, had read of a similar case from the Vietnam era in Freethought Today, the publication of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In this case the Supreme Court ruled that an atheist had as much right to CO status as a religious person; given the address and phone number the Airman left the channel temporarily. Shortly after that GodFree (remember Clark Adams?) came into the channel and Heathen messaged him concerning the situation. GodFree happened to know the man in question who is an active state-church separation defender he had met at freethought conventions. The way was paved and the Airman received a CO's discharge. SirPhin AKA TheHermit, founder of Dal.net's #godless channel tells the story of a young Asian man who, failing in school and in his relationship with his girlfriend, had resolved to commit suicide. SirPhin is a computer and Internet professional and was able through his international Internet connections to discern the actual location and real life identity of the youngster and notify authorities and support people in his city. I personally was online one night when I noticed the strange ranting of a fellow who happened to be in a hotel room above the beginnings of the latest round of Northern Irish violence. This area is shaped like an amphitheater and his hotel was about 1 kilometer from center. The bitter tirade against the Orangemen and the Irish in general soon proved to be the stressed reaction of an expatriate Irishman visiting on business and I was able to feel his horror and inescapable connection to his religious countrymen as they burned below. This last story is an example of how breaking news travels over the Internet. I was aware of the significance of Drumcree and the fact that serious new disturbances were occurring almost 24 hours before it was reported in Austin media. This man was in #godless, #religious_debate, and #atheism at the same time. I think that that night we were community for an atheist far from home. One young woman finds help with her relationships on line, in fact she often shows up with her "Nick" modified to reflect the current status of her long running relationship. A man everyone has advised her to dump. She also offers support in kind to other women and girls on IRC.
Yes, there are youngsters in the atheist channels, and lots of them; here is the group most likely to be isolated due to circumstances beyond their control. These are very bright young people and you will be hard pressed to tell who they are in a debate. Not all are debaters or all atheists for that matter. The more serious youngsters will be found in Dal.net's #atheism and UF.net's #atheism. Less serious to bordering on silly youngsters are often in #evilatheistconspiracy and #godless. Some wiccans and other sorts of religious types are tolerated in these last channels. For the maximum in tastefulness and tolerance #religious_debate seems to stand out.
Channels I have found for atheists are:
On Dalnet: #atheism, #godless, #evilatheistconspiracy, #religious_debate
On efnet: #atheism (this channel has become younger I hear; migration to Dalnet)
Ircnet: #atheism (5 years old, having a gathering in Finland soon, mostly European)
BeyondIRC: #The_Atheist_Temple (never found anyone in this channel, hmmm)