Culture

AOL Instant Messenger: A Eulogy

AIM’s goodbye message (screengrab via aim.com)
Social media is a huge part of life — and for us Millennials, all of that began with AIM.

I haven’t used AOL Instant Messenger in years, but that doesn’t mean that the announcement that it’s being discontinued in December hasn’t got me feeling like someone close to me just died.

See, if you’re a Millennial, then AIM was life to you at a certain point. You have a lot of memories, especially the ones that you’d die to forget, all centered around that little yellow man attached to a dial-up connection. I know I do: I remember how excited I was to write “*David :-*” in my bio when I got the first boyfriend I was really, like, into in the eighth grade, and how devastated I was when he used the same app to break up with me a few months later. (Don’t worry, things got easier when I later learned on another messaging app that he’s gay, and now we’re great friends. Hi, buddy!)

Oh, and then there was that time when everyone posted on their Away Messages that they were at Jessica’s house, and that’s how I realized that I hadn’t been invited. I’ll never forget when I found out that Kaitlyn was the one who convinced Jessica not to invite me, and how I took the low road by throwing my own little party at home and inviting everyone but her — and then convincing all my guests to add little inside jokes from our night in their bios so she would know that This. Was. War.

I’ll never forget all of the times I sat on that computer in my parents’ den talking to my crush, often saying “BRB” and throwing up an Away Message even though I wasn’t going anywhere — just so, you know, I could have some time to come up with the perfect thing to say, and then he’d finally go from just liking me to liking-me-liking me. (He started dating my frenemy and is now married with two kids; it never worked out.)

The Away Message, you see, wasn’t just a notice that you’d left the computer — it was an art form. For example: When I was talking to that boy, and hit him with that “BRB,” one of my favorite moves was to quickly put up an Away Message with some Weezer lyrics describing my own feelings through the vehicle of Weezer – I’m a lot like you, so please/Hello, I’m here/I’m waiting/I think I’d be good for you, and you’d be good for me — in time for it to pop up before he typed “K,” so he would see it and maybe figure out that it was about him, and also think it was cool that I liked Weezer like he did. I handle relationships a little differently now, but more maturely? I don’t know.

Actually, on second thought . . . do I handle them differently? Do any of us? Living a life that’s centered around AIM, after all, isn’t really much different than the lives we’re now living centered around social media. Just like I used to post Away Messages passive aggressively as a teenager, I can definitely admit that I’ve posted certain tweets or pictures in the hopes that a certain someone (or, more honestly, a certain ex-someone) would see them. You might call that pathetic, and you’d certainly be right, but I’d also call you a liar if you’d even dare to try and tell me that you’ve never done the same thing.

The game hasn’t changed; neither have we.

It’s stupid but it’s true: Social media is a huge part of life, and for us Millennials, all of that began with AIM. Just like we as teenagers got excited to put *Day/Month/Year/Kissyface* to mark the official beginning of our high school relationships in our bios, many adults now make a big deal about making a relationship “Facebook Official.” My parents never understood why I wanted to leave my AIM on all day with an Away Message — “Other people have to use the computer, Katherine, and that thing is slowing it down!” “Well Lauren has her own computer, Dad! — but they never understood what the Away Message was really about. It wasn’t about the app, it was about you needing everyone to know what you were away doing — and hopefully, that you were so cool because you were doing it. How is that any different from the motivation behind the status updates and Instagram stories that we’re posting now? The answer: It isn’t. The game hasn’t changed; neither have we; the only difference is that now a lot of our parents are playing it too.

Speaking of parents, my dad always hated seeing me on AIM. He’s convinced that the time I spent on it is the reason that I quit playing the oboe, and maybe he’s right. In fact, I think he’s still right. I spend a lot of time on Twitter, and I often wonder what I could accomplish if I didn’t insist on wasting so many hours refreshing a screen full of comments I don’t care about from people I don’t know. As we come together to mourn the death of AIM, let’s not forget to think about all the ways it’s shaped us into who we are today — including some long, hard looks at how little we’ve really changed.

*Some names have been changed to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent who I’m still sort of mad at. I’m looking at you, “Kaitlyn.”

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