Oh, man, that brings back memories... I remember going on the "Bulletin Board Systems" to hang out when I was younger. And, by hang out, I meant to carry on discussions through boards with a lot of local people. It was great - the people there didn't care that I was 12 / 13 / 14 years old, they just cared that I had an opinion that could be reasonably and rationally defended. In many ways, the people I hung with were like the good folks over at Galactica Watercooler, a podcast I love. Age doesn't matter, race doesn't matter, education doesn't matter... just a person's ability to discuss thoughts and to experience new literature.
To show how things change - this would be, oh, 1987 or 1988. A bunch of friends of mine from the bulletin boards got together at Eagle Rock Reservation for a big picnic - like, 25 or 30 of us. My mother drove me to the Reservation and walked me to the park.
Then, she got in the car and went home, leaving me, a 13-year-old, with my "internet" friends.
Could you imagine doing that, today? Granted, it was a BIG group of people - not two or three weird fat guys in overcoats, glancing into the woods furtively and drinking from metal flasks.
The day went wonderfully - full of fun games (frisbee, volleyball, water-gun fights) and food and discussion, trading books and much teasing about silly things and conversations that had taken place. I was the youngest one there by a couple of years - most of the people were early-20's to late-30's, with a few high school students and a handful of college students.
I don't know what happened to my friends, most of which were on a BBS called "Through the Looking Glass." I remember a British fellow who joked that he had no modem - merely two whistling aardvarks. I remember the nice woman that ran the system, and a guy named Buzz that was a couple of years older than me, who gave me a straighten-up-and-fly-right e-mail that stopped me from becoming one of those "n00bs sux" guys (thanks, Buzz from Livingston, wherever you are).
Nowadays, though... if you left your 13-year-old with a bunch of adult friends he met on the internet, DYFS would come and take your kids away - and, likely, rightly so. It's a different world, today.