AIM: Typing Tutorial for a Generation of ’90s Kids

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A door creaks open. A door slams shut. A robotic man claims that I have mail. That is the sounds of fourteen year old me talking to my friends. On AIM. If you grew up in the time of NSYNC, beanie babies, and walkman tape players, you know what I’m talking about. America Online Instant Messenger, for all you kids out there. As I will one day tell my future children and grandchildren, back in the days of wooly mammoths, ‘texting’ could be done only from a desktop the size of a microwave. You also had sit out in the open, typing in your family’s living room when no one needed the phone.

Recently, someone remarked that my typing is rather speedy. “I grew up flirting with boys online,” I joked. That sounds creepy, but as a tween it literally never occurred to me that I could talk to strangers on the internet. The only people I chatted to were those I met in person, asked for their screen name, entered it into my “buddy” list and then logged on to converse with nonchalantly awkwardly. AIM was a way to flirt with boys outside school, without doing it directly by, for example, (horror of horrors) calling on the phone. Like bumping into someone at the store and having a random chat. “Oh, you’re online too? Just saying hi.”

Then there was the away message. The goal of the away message was to come up with the wittiest quip possible ~ the kind of message that said: If I were here to talk to you it would be the greatest conversation because I’m hilarious, but I’m also so fun and busy that I’m out doing something amazing right now. Preferably worded via a song lyric. The status message has lived on in various iterations, but none so elegant as the AIM away message.

AIM continued as a communication force in my life into college. The away messages migrated from moody song lyrics to moody poetry and movie quotes. Anything referencing Garden State was especially popular. I used AIM with friends to decide what time to meet for dinner. It was a distraction from that English 101 paper of epic procrastination. A way to find someone to talk to late at night if you were both up. And, while we’ve all moved on to new email providers, apps, webpages, and texting, AOL was my first email and online identity and for that, I have a little soft spot for it.

Shakespeare once said: if something is on the internet it’s there forever. That certainly seems true for embarrassing photos anyway. The other day I wondered if everything really is still there. So I logged on to AIM. My flimsy password still worked, but it was evident that in the 8 + years since I’d last used it, AOL had deleted my inbox, sent mail and saved conversations. Somewhat disappointed that a little piece of my past was now in the abyss of the internet, I almost signed off. But that’s when I noticed the AIM contacts list informing me that linzy568 was offline. Scrolling down, they were all there – the high school classmates, college friends, crushes, kids I met at camp – all currently offline. Thanks for the memories AOL!

Just remember, some day we will all sigh at the adorable nostalgia of Siri.

 

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