This weekend, the one light at the end of my dark tunnel of studying was the fact that my best friend Macbeth was in the same midterm-laden boat at her college. We therefore often took advantage of Facebook chat to commiserate. Multiple times I found myself staring at the grey dot next to her name, willing it to become green. The whole thing reminded me of the days of obsessive AIM usage.

A fundamental pillar of our collective youth, AIM was everything. In addition to being how you avoided doing your social studies homework, AIM was how you kept in touch; both with people and gossip. Not having a screen name was like not having a social security number. You didn’t exist.

I also remember there being two distinct camps: Those who called it “Aim” and those who called it “A.I.M.” I’m not sure how, but the way you pronounced the word became a social litmus test. If you said it the “uncool” way, you clearly were a poser. You didn’t know your way around the internet and you probably only had, like, 3 friends on your Friends List, including your sister. I always thought it was pronounced “A.I.M.” since it was an acronym for AOL Instant Messenger, and even my 11-year-old brain could compute that since we said “A.O.L.” we should say “A.I.M.” It wasn’t until a frenemy was all, “Um, it’s like totally called ‘Aim.” Not ‘A.I.M.’ Loser,” that I began what would be a long stream of instances where I made myself dumber in order to fit in with my peers. Elizabeth Cady Stanton would be proud*.

Indeed, I don’t remember anything about AIM that might be considered an asset to the feminist movement. Not when we would obsessively read the profile info boxes of boys to see if they mentioned a girl, nor when we spent hours waiting for our crushes to get online so we could sit there and wait for them to talk to us first. And definitely not when I was in 7th grade and my crush asked my friend what kind of underwear I wore. (Dear men: Women tell each other everything.)

I’ve had quite a few romantic trysts via AIM. (And no, underwear boy was not one of them. I was 13 when he asked that question. I didn’t even know guys knew we wore underwear. I was scarred for life.) None of them have ever amounted to anything, but I certainly do not miss those days of quoting song lyrics in your info box, hoping the boy you liked would know it was about him. Waiting online for hours, because he said he’d be one “after dinner.” Lurking, invisible, until he signed on and then signing on IMMEDIATELY after he did. Waiting for him to say the first thing and crying when it took him a while. Smiling until you cried when it didn’t. Staying up way past your bedtime because you were having the scintillating conversations of pre-teens.

I just went to my old yahoo account to see if I had any conversations I had sent to friends and I am shocked at the wealth of things I found. How about this email I got in ’05 from Izzygums? “You weirdo! That was your oppurtune moment to tell him to leave you alone! He said he loves you, and you should have been like.. excuse me? I don’t know why you talk with him on aim, just block him. OMG! I can’t beleive he’s stalking you! HE’S A FREAK! (although, if I was a guy, I would stalk you too! ) But that’s just wrong!”

I totally almost forgot about that poor, annoying, strange guy that was like, totally stalking me. (But seriously, he used to follow me in the hallways and he got my cell number somehow when I didn’t give it to him.) And look, actual conversation with an actual guy! I’m going to change his screen name, just in case. I think we can all see why this never lasted:

AnnoyingGuy123: sooo

Born2Shine132007: so?
AnnoyingGuy123: what u wana talk about
Born2Shine132007: whatever…
Born2Shine132007: what’s your favorite movie?
AnnoyingGuy123: dont have one
AnnoyingGuy123: urs
Born2Shine132007: i like tons and tons
Born2Shine132007: movies are my life
AnnoyingGuy123: so if i get to know u
AnnoyingGuy123: we can go to the movies
Born2Shine132007: as long as you buy:-)
AnnoyingGuy123 signed off at 8:11:16 PM.
AnnoyingGuy123 signed on at 8:11:20 PM.
AnnoyingGuy123: so we can go watch a movie someday

Auto response from Born2Shine132007: brb


Born2Shine132007: perhaps
AnnoyingGuy123: yes
Born2Shine132007: yes?
AnnoyingGuy123: i said u like movies
AnnoyingGuy123: i said we can go out ssomeday to the movies
Born2Shine132007: and i said perhaps, and you said yes, and it confused me
AnnoyingGuy123: perhaps what
Born2Shine132007: perhaps we can go out
AnnoyingGuy123: were
AnnoyingGuy123: huh
Born2Shine132007: nevermind moving on
AnnoyingGuy123: what were u trying to say
Born2Shine132007: i was being coy
Born2Shine132007: u said we can go out
Born2Shine132007: and i answered perhaps, as in MAYBE
Born2Shine132007: coy
AnnoyingGuy123: noo
AnnoyingGuy123: u whr being a girl
Born2Shine132007: that too

This was a tame, yet painful, example. I had to explain almost every big word I used with him. And I surprisingly used a lot for a 17 year old girl on AIM. I later told him I liked someone else, which I can’t remember if it was true or not (It probably was. I had 4 crushes a week.) and he stopped talking to me. Thank God. I found a surprising amount of guys asking me out via AIM that I had completely forgotten about. I never went out with any of them, since I’m a little picky when it comes to, oh, I don’t know, being able to understand basic vocabulary and sentence structure. But all of these forgotten failed romances helped boost my confidence a wee bit. I should maybe send out a mass apology to teenage boys. I was kind of a biotch. So, young boys I shot down- I’m sorry. Although I usually tried to soften the blow by telling you I liked someone else or that I wasn’t dating… sorry. Like, my bad.

On the other hand, I remember having my heart repeatedly broken on AIM. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in little ways. There was the night I decided I definitely had a crush on my friend, X, and was going to go for it. And in that same moment, he started telling me about the girl he liked. Oh, the tears with that one. Then there was the convo with my summer crush as to why he had been avoiding me at school. He told me he liked someone else and was confused as to who to choose. He didn’t choose me. I have often wondered if our relationship was completely fabricated and only existed in that little text box.

When I think back to it, AIM was like this alternate universe in which feelings were danced around and simultaneously bared. Where hormones moved faster than the internet (remember dial-up?), and where there was just enough anonymity to wear your heart on your sleeve and be able to cry alone when you got hurt.

Kids these days are much more “out there.” We had xanga and myspace, of course, but those networking sites were rudimentary for a long time. AIM was our social hub. The almost-instant human interaction was what set us apart. Kids are so plugged in now. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m just thinking about the strange, isolated time in internet culture in which we lived. We could almost be called the AIM generation as it was there for our formative years.

I wonder if we’ll be worse for the wear, the AIM generation. I wonder how many of us turn to virtual places to air our feelings. I know I do, if only through the occasional emo poetry fest or snarky status update. I wonder, conversely, if growing up at a time when we were constantly talking to each other helped us be better communicators. Since we could never tell tone via “oh yeah, sooooo funny,” we were forced to learn to clarify our sentiments and to ask for clarification when we needed it. If I were more scholarly, I’d do some research and deeper thinking into those of us who went online to hang out after school, but I have more important things to do. Like check Facebook, which is so 3008.

What are your thoughts on AIM? Fond memories? Broken hearts? I found out, via digging in my inbox, that I can be a total biotch once you get on my bad side. Ah, from the mouths of pissed-off teenagers…


*SIDENOTE: I just needed to Google something and saw that today is International Women’s Day. I did not even plan this. I rock.

5 thoughts on “Away Message: A Retrospective on AIM

  1. Marquita

    bahahah I completely remember making up an account to talk to a friend/frenemy so I could get info out of her. I was baaaad. I also totally used it as virtual relationship roulette, where whoever was on was the name of the game and waiting for the “right” guy to come on was like waiting until the lottery hit that magic number to throw in my ticket. My goodness we were silly


  2. Amber K.

    OMG AIM (said “aim”)… I feel like I have a very similar perspective being a fellow AIM generation member. When I (along with my peers) 1st started using AIM, circa 7th grade, that for me was 1997 and xanga and myspace didn’t exist. I’m sure I have some old AIM convos saved somewhere but I’m too lazy to dig them up (probably on old backed up CDs from 2-3 computers ago). Those would be a fun read.


  3. Pingback: Nothing Funny, I Just Like Talent! | Kaitlin Wehlmann's Blog

Leave a Reply