Life Without Away Messages and Buddy Lists
Although the millennial generation was the last to be shaped by AOL’s Instant Messenger, kids today should know what they’re missing out on.
By Mattie Winowitch, Waynesburg University
I’ll never forget the day I was introduced to one of technology’s first and finest forms of online communication: AOL’s Instant Messenger (AIM).
I was sitting in fifth grade when a group of my classmates crowded around my desk during indoor recess. One of the girls in the group approached me, as if she was a lion and I was a helpless gazelle. “Mattie! What’s your screenname?”
I stared up at her, completely confused. I was still in the world of Tamagotchi and Nintendogs. You know, games you play by yourself (which probably explains why I’m a chronic introvert now).
“…What’s that?” I asked in response. I was laughed at by the group until they explained to me that AIM is the coolest invention in all of mankind, and if I didn’t use it, I was a loser. Of course, in fifth grade, being a loser was social suicide. As soon as I got home that day, I rushed to my room, where I broke out my lime-green Dell laptop, which probably weighed close to 20 lbs., a quarter of my weight at the time. I went to my internet browser, which, if we’re being honest, was some form of Internet Explorer, and I typed in three little letters: “A-I-M.” The rest was history.
Older generations often criticize millennials for being glued to their screens. I’m sure you’ve heard this rant at least once from some old person in your life: “Back in my day, we went outside and enjoyed fresh air! We knew how to talk to people! Kids these days are really going to suffer.”
While this is an, uhm, compelling observation, it’s actually incorrect. The best thing about millennials is that they were the last generation to get an actual childhood before the whole technology thing began. And, when technology did arrive, it was so innocent. Too innocent for its own good.
The unfortunate news for young kids today is that technology has advanced to the point where babies know how to use iPhones and iPads. When you look at ten-year-old kids today, instead of being crazy and blindly fumbling around on AIM, they’re running full-scale social media platforms and aren’t socializing face-to-face at all.
While I do cherish my childhood memories of running around outside, some of my best memories were (embarrassingly) made on AIM. That’s why I’d like to reminisce and provide you with a list of the best parts of AIM that kids today are sadly missing out on, and I’ll try my best to not sound like the stereotypical old person I quoted before.
1. Picking the Perfect Screen Name
I had multiple screen names, which, for those who don’t know, was basically the @name of AIM. Picking it out was such a scary ,yet exciting moment. What do you want to be recognized and known for by everyone in your “Buddy List?”
For me, it was this formula that yielded my prized AIM screen name: Favorite activity + poor grammar + elementary school bus number = heart2shopp109.
The strange thing is that I was a tomboy in the fifth grade. I didn’t even like shopping. Maybe instead of a favorite activity, it should’ve been an activity you want everyone else to think you like.
2. Hearing the “Door” Open
Not only were graphics and user interface capabilities poor in 2008, but sound effects were also quite terrible. Though, nothing was more satisfying than the sound the computer made when one of your “buddies” signed in.Creeeeeeeeek. That was the sign to check if your best friend or crush was online. Voila: Creeping made easy via a twisted version of Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning experiment.
3. Group Chats After School
Once I was finally done being an outcast for not having a screen name, I was subsequently invited to multiple group chats after school.
Of course, these invites were done in person, often in the form of a passed note or a whisper during class. Doesn’t that sound WAY better than iMessage? I guess you had to be there.
4. Customizing Your Buddy Profile
If you thought keeping your Instagram aesthetic was important, you have no idea what keeping your buddy profile lit as hell was like.
If you didn’t have at least five inspirational quotes, one juicy list of your best friends, a full paragraph in hot pink Comic Sans and a fire playlist from playlist.com, you might as well have just thrown your computer away.
5. Your First Online Fight or Breakup
Breaking up is hard to do, but it’s not that hard when there’s a screen translating the message for you.
Both breakups and dramatic pre-teen fights were best done over AIM. No harm, no foul. Okay, maybe there was a little harm, but at least it wasn’t physical.
6. Going “Incognito”
After getting into a heated fight on AIM, things might get a little awkward. That’s what the “invisible” setting is for.
It’s basically the modern-day equivalent of turning your read receipts off. You still want to talk to your side hoes while hiding from your enemies? The invisible setting is here for you.
7. Picking the Perfect Away Message
Picking an away message, or the equivalent of a Facebook status or a temporary Twitter bio, was definitely one of the most stressful times.
Did you want to sound ambiguous or emo? Flirty or pissed off? I usually settled for the lyrics of a depressing song with inverse capital letters. For example, “CuT mY lIfE iNtO pIeCeS tHiS iS mY lAsT rEsOrT.” Perfect!
8. …and the Perfect Icon
While social media today encourages people to post the perfect selfie for their profile picture, AIM icons were far less pressuring. Instead, all the really cool people had funny icons of cartoon characters, cute quotes or customizable ones with your initials.
I’m pretty sure mine had something to do with Club Penguin. I remember one girl’s icon just said “Bitch<3,” and at the time, I thought she was so cool. Pretty sure she’s in jail now. What a shame.