On Old School Instant Messenger: AIM, People


As quickly as AOL Instant Messenger became my life’s top priority, like a so-wrong-he’s-right boyfriend, it seemed to have left.

In third grade, my mom finally allowed me to make my first screenname. hannahdylanp5. It was boring, but I didn’t care: My best friend’s dad convinced my mom I wouldn’t be sold as a haute couture sweatshop worker just because I was chatting with Smarter Child. So, I took the name I was given. Simple is chic, anyway.

I crave what 6:45am in front of that chunky Windows desktop felt like. There’s a reason why the sound of dial-up connection is so nostalgic to our generation: it sounds like love.

So, every morning before school, I would wait for my suitor’s screenname to jump from ‘Away’ to ‘Available.’ I would be there, idling but not ‘Idle.’ Whether I was hopelessly devoted to the boy or to his screenname, I don’t really know.

I was obsessed with talking online. And even though it allowed the Post It love notes we passed to each other under our classroom table to transcend old school ‘face time’ — yes, talking face to face — it didn’t consume either of us. When my homework was finished, I would go online. If I was lucky, he would show up, and if I wasn’t, he wouldn’t. There was no arrangement. The buddy list was a magic eight ball that did as it pleased.

When you weren’t Available, there was no mupload to tell your lady in waiting what you were actually doing. There was no “read” notification. When they were Away, they were usually “~DRiViNG SL0\/\/ 0N SUNdAY M0RNiNG &&&& i NEVER WANT T0 LEA\/E_” (flawless exemplar courtesy of the too-real Twitter, @YourAwayMessage). Or you could have been more specific, like me: “i luv school….. the social part, that is!!” Yes, this is an Away message I actually made. Yes, I got elementary school-style shit for it. Yes, it was so scarring that I will remember making it forever. 

Before we knew it, AOL Instant Messenger turned into AIM. When everyone made Facebook accounts, email faded and “inboxing” became a thing. Which is really dumb, actually, because an inbox is a noun — the thing in which you receive a message — and just because Facebook titled your inbox with the word “Inbox,” people starting referring to sending messages as “inboxing.” Millennials: Turning nouns into verbs like it’s our frickin’ job.

Then, inboxing became more instant, more buddy list-y, more inviting. Your friends (read: people you don’t know/cryptic boys) became more stalkable. You knew if someone was ignoring you and if someone was home. I’ve developed a way to figure out exactly where people in my innermost circle — best friends and boyfriends — are at all times based on very mild communication via text and the info Facebook messenger tells me. This method will be elaborated upon in another post, because if you all don’t know, then you really deserve to.

But if you do know what I mean, doesn’t it kind of suck? Don’t you wish you didn’t know?

One year, my elementary school lover (our ‘relationship’ extended a whopping three years) and I were to leave for different sleepaway camps on the same June morning. I woke up and my heart sank to my uterus: I realized I didn’t have his summer address to send real love letters, and not Post It notes, to. I ran down two flights of stairs to our one desktop, where the dial up determined my summer love’s fate.

Alas! He was online. It was like a Hanukkah miracle. We exchanged addresses, and wished our digital farewells for the summer. Look at me: I was in fifth grade and already managing a sustainable long distance relationship.

Six years later, it was my second-to-last summer at camp, and I spent seven weeks playing phone tag with my serious boyfriend. There was no dial up tone, (I will credit him to seven love letters, though), but still, a piece of that AIM magic was gone.

Image via Vogue.