Flashback Friday: The Evolution of the Instant Message

It started in the 3rd grade. My mom bought AOL and I got my very own screen name. My whole life was changed. Instead of worrying about a parent answering the phone when calling friends and having to ask if he or she is home (this was always my biggest fear), I could talk to them through the computer.

I came home from school every day and went straight for the computer. I sat down, clicked the AOL icon, typed in my password, and laid back while the computer went through the 3 steps of internet connection: 1. Beginning of loud noise, 2. Loud noise, 3. End of loud noise. And there I was: online.

At first, it was all about AOL Kids Only. And as the first born, my mom went HAM on the parental controls. This didn’t stop myself from obsessing over the world wide web, though. I had some email addresses of friends… and if they had AOL, I could talk to them through ‘Instant Messenger.’ I could type a message to a person in, like, an instant. It was so cool.

Soon enough came the chain letters. The annoying-as-hell chain letters where we actually believed if we didn’t scroll through the entire message and send it to at least 30 people we would NEVER find love. Ever. To those of you who STILL send chain letters (you know who you are), please give it up. Chain letters are sooo 1999.

The next breakthrough program was AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and NO, this was not the Instant Messenger that came with AOL. This was a separate program that everyone had whose parents either wouldn’t let them get an AOL account OR wouldn’t buy the AOL software. It was free. It took me a while to get this program, but when I did it changed everything.

AIM was hands down the coolest thing ever. I had my buddy list in which I separated people into different groups. I had one for friends, one for my BEST friends, one for people I didn’t like (this still exists – I signed on my old screen name recently for a good laugh), one for people I didn’t know (not even kidding), and others for sports, camp, and dance people. I had hundreds of people on my buddy list. How I knew all of their screen names, I have no idea. It’s like instead of phone numbers we asked for screen names… We must have even asked for OTHER people’s screen names… because the amount of people on my buddy list who I never spoke to was overwhelming. Not to mention, the conversations I had with people were dull and a complete waste of time. ‘Sup’ ‘NMU’ ‘Nothin much’ ‘Cool.’ WHAT WAS THE POINT OF THIS?

I also had my AIM profile – which was basically my prized possession. I updated it on a tri-daily basis. Probably even more than that. The AIM profile was different than the AOL profile. You weren’t asked your name, your ‘marital status’ to which we all replied (boyfriend/girlfriend’s name here)<33333333 143!, or your favorite quote. It was just a big, open space you could put ANYTHING in – in any font or color (comic sans anyone?).

Profiles usually consisted of all your friend’s, acquaintance’s, and friends’ friends initials. Often, inside jokes were put next to many of these initials. Sometimes really lame quotes from Brit and Nsync were put in about our latest crush… and other times lyrics from punk bands were put into our profiles to express our anger towards the system (the system being middle school). Occasionally, we would type like our fingers were doing intervals on the treadmill… for ex: LoVe yA BiTchEzZz. Why we did this, and seriously did this, I have no idea. Typing like that takes wayyyyyy too much effort. Eventually things like the ‘subprofile’ were invented where you could answer a bunch of questions (aka TMI) for the world to see and then (this is the best part) SEE who viewed your extended profile… and how many times they viewed it. Umm, sketchy.

We did not only express ourselves through profiles, though. Soon enough came the away message. That let us be online when we weren’t even at the computer… when we weren’t even at home. If we were at school, we could leave our comps on with an away message stating ‘at school! bbl!‘ I remember staying home sick and sitting at my computer waiting for someone else to come back from being away. It was a sick way of knowing who else was home from school. It was fun and wrong at the same time.

This ritual continued through high school. AIM was, like, our BFF. We looked at AIM more than we looked at other human beings. No wonder we all have bad eye sight. My senior year of high school, I got Facebook… and little did I know, this exciting little website would literally change my life forever (or at least for now). Facebook back in the day consisted of your photos, your wall, your friends, and your profile. You belonged to a school’s network meaning if you f*cked up and didn’t make it to college, you were left out (this site was created by Ivy League people – they obv didn’t have such friends). No one could see any of your profile except your friends – with the exception of your prof pic and school name. It was exclusive and cool. Yet, we still used AIM.

When I got to college, things changed. Don’t get me wrong I was still IMing people left and right – with a new buddy list group titled ‘College’ – but I wasn’t using AIM (macs like iChat and Adium better) and we had texting. Texting became all the rage when I entered college. We began to get people’s numbers instead of screen names so we could send mass texts asking what was going on this weekend. Not to mention, we could just friend people on Facebook and send them a message if need be.

AIM was phased out when Facebook started to become the giant that it is. Instead of posting feeling-filled away messages, we were posting statuses. Instead of asking whoever was online what was going on tonight, we texted them. Eventually we could even Facebook message people without having their number OR screen name because we knew most people had FB on their phones and would get the message there… or they would be checking FB in the computer lab on their way to class (no lie).

The ‘end’ of AIM came when Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook chat. As in AIM… but with all of your Facebook friends. You could do it all in one place. There was no need to open a separate program. If you did so, it would be to open Skype to vid chat. We were also growing older… meaning the age of typing like FrEaKs was referred to as ‘back in the day’ and colorful profiles filled with song lyrics and people’s initials was just a phase.

Nowadays, every message is instant. There is no excitement over it… only anger when someone is not responding to you two minutes after you send a message and feelings of loneliness when your phone battery dies. If someone doesn’t answer your text, you can message them on Facebook. You can call them. You can keep texting. You can even email them – since that is instant now too. We don’t need the dial up, but we sure appreciated the Internet more when we had to use it. Just look how dependent we are on instant communication. It’s almost disgusting. But then again, if we didn’t have it – I would be lost. Long live the instant message.

Samantha Matt

Hi I’m Sam. I made this website in 2011 and it’s still going. My first book, AVERAGE IS THE NEW AWESOME, is coming out in January (you can buy it right now on Amazon or from your fave bookstore!). I like pizza, French fries, barre, spin, more pizza, more French fries, and buying clothes. Writing is fun. Follow me on twitter & Instagram at @samanthamatt1... and on this site's meme account on IG at @20somethingproblems. OKAY GREAT THANKS BYE.

5 Comments
  1. You just described my life to a T! AIM is one of the reasons I learned how to type. When you were having intense conversations with your friends, you couldn’t be the one responding slow. I’m sure many can agree their typing skills improved using AIM.

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