A tribute to the AIM away message, an important part of our childhoods

Whether or not you knew it was still around, news came out today that AOL is getting rid of AIM, also known as AOL Instant Messenger. The chat feature, which launched back in 1997 and served as a massive game-changer in the way we communicate, has been around for 20 years and will officially be discontinued on December 15th. Thus, the AIM away message will quickly become ancient history.

Now, 20 years is nothing to frown at. That means that a ton of us grew up with AIM. A ton of us had a goofy screen name (or five) that we felt represented us. A ton of us would, to this day, still react to the “door-opening” noise our buddy lists made when someone popped online. And a ton of us expressed ourselves best with an AIM away message.

Away messages were poetry — really. Mine, personally, didn’t consist of poetry I wrote. More often than not, it was a lyric by Radiohead. Why? Well, since at the ripe age of 19, Thom Yorke knew me better than I knew myself.

Radiohead also had lyrics that could be interpreted in a few different ways, which was a bonus. When you were harboring a crush who happened to be floating around your buddy list and your self-esteem wasn’t the highest, it felt good to be vague.

AIM away messages likely started with one standard purpose — it was a message to let people know that you were “AFK, BRB.” Back in college, someone could easily just list “dining hall” or “at class,” but what was the fun in that?


AOL also let users save their best away messages, so you could have a full list of great ones. As far as I can personally recall, there was no limit as to how many you could have. So it was up to you whether or not you should bust out a classic or craft a brand new one. For many users, it gave us a sense of control.

Really, if you think about it, AIM was a key factor in so many of our relationships. The chat program was biggest before cell phones became a must-have accessory. Thus, for the average high school or college student back in the day, screen names were swapped instead of numbers.

While it was probably never intended to serve such a purpose, away messages became an incredible tool to “screen people” before investing more time.

Did they like the same music as you? Did it seem like they had an active social life? Were they funny? All of these questions, and more, could be figured out based on a perfectly constructed AIM away message. And creating one was pretty much similar to crafting the perfect mixtape, another long-lost staple of our youth.

The best bonus ever was when a friend decided to include you in an away message, since if your name was up there for all to see, obviously your bond was legit.

As silly as it sounds, I definitely credit AIM for helping me make and maintain friendships. While I haven’t used it in a little over a decade, hearing that it’s soon to be no more is still somewhat of a punch to the gut. The away message that would explain it best would probably be the pre-saved “crushed like a bug in the ground.” Because Thom Yorke gets it. Still.