I haven’t used AIM in years. The last conversation I had with another human—not a spam bot or “aolsystemmsg”—was in 2012. Like a lot of people, I suppose, I got a smartphone in 2011 and never looked back.

When I was in fourth grade or so I was under the impression that a “chat” was when you sent an email to someone and they sent an email right back, because they were online right now! One of my mom’s college students, a guy named Chris, introduced us to AOL Instant Messenger in probably 1999. Compared to exchanging emails, this was a step further: it really felt like you were talking to the other person in real time.

Other parts of the country used MSN Messenger—presumably the same parts that drank “pop” and got their Girl Scout cookies from the other bakery—but AIM was ubiquitous in my school. Most of my free hours were spent in front of the computer and for most of those hours I had the AIM client (and later, Adium) open on the side. I rarely talked to my friends on the phone; it was all online and text-based.1 High school was a heady, hormonal time, which is why, fifteen years later, I still get a little thrill when I hear this sound:

Who’s this? A classmate, a friend, a crush, a secret admirer? Are they asking for homework help or spreading some choice gossip? AIM conversations never started with any subtlety. It was this mechanistic fanfare, every time.

Now instead of “instant messaging” we just have “messaging.” AIM profiles have been replaced with Facebook profiles. Status updates have taken the place of away messages, and who can really be “away” from the internet now anyway? Realistically, AIM has been irrelevant for a while now. It was the social glue of my formative years, though, and purely for nostalgia’s sake I’ll miss it.

  1. Still true today, although “online” no longer means “sitting in front of a desktop computer and monopolizing your parents’ phone line.”↩︎