Two nights ago, I sat with my husband and some friends over the last few scraps of dinner and reminisced about AOL Instant Messenger. Today, I learned that the company closed down the AIM development department. I am, therefore, entirely to blame for the death of the program. I’m not sure how- maybe I used the past tense too definitively, maybe I startled The Fates into remembering a neglected chore (“Oh shoot, is that thing still around? Snip it.”), maybe I deserve this pain because my tone obviously implied a superiority, with all my facebooking, tweeting and laughy “Oh man, remember INFOS?”
But for real- remember infos? When you chatted with someone on AOL you could click a little icon or something, maybe in the lower right hand corner, that would open up a separate window painstakingly decorated by the owner. For the bulk of my AOL career, my Buddy Info boasted song lyrics and a single declaration at the bottom of the window: I love you, Mike!!!!
Mike was my boyfriend, obviously. That’s a relationship status. It’s also the potential for a wicked fight, should it ever go missing.
“I love you, Mike!!!!” could work for an Away Message too, as could essentially any lyric from any song by Brand New or The Get Up Kids. Inside jokes with your bf4L worked great for Away Messages too. So did “brb” or “bbl” come to think of it, if you were super boring or super chill.
Buddy Infos and Away Messages were only the most obvious outlets for personal expression. I can remember trying endless combinations of colors and fonts in an effort to present my digital self in the most attractive light. As a freshman in high school, I had a flirty Bradley Hand (pink highlight, white font) for a while, until that suddenly seemed pathetic. As an upperclassman, I eventually settled on a 10pt Times New Roman (black, no highlight) that was deliciously nonchalant. (Similarly, my screen name ranged from Froshchick21 to Carrie3197. I know I don’t need to be embarrassed about that because yours was sexylexi or soccerdude or something really dumb.)
Also, I think I can finally come clean about my secret screen name. I just threw an extra “r” in the middle of Carrie3197. Amazingly simple, right? Log on as my alter-ego, and I could stake out my entire Buddy List without anyone having any idea that I MYSELF was online!
I can’t remember why I wanted to be able to do this, but it was definitely awesome.
I didn’t set out to write a eulogy for AIM, but that’s what this feels like. It feels like the end of a very profound chapter of my life, a chapter that in fact ended long ago. I’ll always remember the sense of great possibility that came with an “Accept Message” dialogue box from an unknown screen name. The captivating pastime of browsing through Buddy Icons. The novelty of chatting midweek, on a snow day. AOL Instant Messenger was my first foray into the world of social networking, at a time in my life when social networking was pretty much all that mattered. I haven’t been online for years, and if I could remember my password and sign on I’m sure I’d find a deserted wasteland. But I’d like to imagine a more climatic ending than that- a final farewell that sounds like millions of tiny doors closing, millions of Buddies signing off.
by Carrie Ross
Feature image via.