Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I had the abrupt realization the other day that I no longer use America Online Instant Messenger (AIM). Their instant messaging program used to be the very cornerstone of my existence, and it's simply faded into the obscurity of my impending (okay, imminent) adulthood. Though functions like Facebook Chat and GChat keep us messaging our friends instantly, the loss I mourn is of our quirky but universal rules of AIM etiquette and practice.
Hearken back, if you will, to a time before Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and all other social media. Back when your online persona had a single avenue of emergence. When our away messages, chat icons, and AIM profiles defined us so completely to our judgmental online peers. A time when just the right balance of ~*~*~* to words with aLtErNaTiNg CaPiTaL aNd LoWeR cAsE lEtTeRs were enough to make your profile sparkle.
Yes, it was a simpler time. My boyfriend and I were discussing the issue and he mentioned his previous middle school AIM addiction that bordered on meriting a 12-step program. "I remember thinking to myself that if I were really rich, I would make a handheld device so I could take AIM wherever I went," he mentioned. Just imagine how it would shock his middle school self to learn that nearly every one of us has one of these in our purse or pocket right now. They're called cell phones.
Before we were constantly plugged in to ten different networks of social media, we were a single-minded bunch. There were a complex set of unwritten rules that governed our AIM behavior. Let's explore a few of the universal norms and mores that drove our socially conscious AIM activity:
Create a Screen Name that Conveys Your Personality
Generally, these types of screen names included words like "Sweet" and "QTpie" for a girl and sports or athlete names for boys. Because our middle school minds were so achingly unoriginal, at your suggestion of a screenname AIM would inevitably spit back something like, "How about QTpie18483134852?"
Inclusion of birth year, age, or graduation year numbers was a popular motif, one that would likely have brought many of us into To Catch a Predator-like scenarios in the current online climate. In the early days of AIM, choosing a non-conventional or highly unique and personalized screenname was akin to social suicide. Yes, we had 12 versions of KittenLuver on our buddy lists, but it was far better than having been perceived as an individual.
Read Everyone's Away Message Religiously and Addictively
Nowadays we can get our fix via Facebook or Twitter, but it was back in the AIM glory days that we first grew enamored with the notion of broadcasting our every activity cyberworldward. If God forbid our internet was ever down, we would shake and convulse with the pains of voyeurism withdrawal.
Update Your Own Away Message to Show How Interesting, Witty, and Popular you Are
Helpful Hint: Single word informative away messages are always a social faux pas. To simply write "Showering" or "Eating" is the equivalent of admitting how boring and mundane your life really is. No, you needed to be "Gettin' my shower on" or "Foodin' it up" instead. See how much more interesting you seem?
More often than not, it was important to let people know that not only were you out doing something, but that you weren't alone. "Out with my girls!" or "Playin Bball with Dave and Dan" were variations on socially acceptable norms. No one would ever, ever write "Quietly reading alone in my room". The only time you were allowed to be alone was while studying, and you better have used that away message to complain about it or you'd be suspected of (gasp!) enjoying schoolwork. For shame.
Choose the Perfect Icon
When AIM released the icon option, we all eagerly pored through the catalogs with Talmudic levels of focus and analysis. Was I more of a kitten or a flower? It was a tough call. Deliberation over whether I made the right choice haunts me to this day.
Select the Most Emo Available Pre-Emo Era Song Lyric for your Profile
This was before the coinage of the term "emo", but it's generally a good fit for the style of song snippet we placed meaningfully (or so we thought) in our profiles. The lyrics were supposed to have some type of personal meaning, but usually you just saw it in someone else's profile, thought it made them look wise and thoughtful, and adopted it as your own.
Extra Credit: Include a link to your angsty xanga or LiveJournal
Pick a Fun Sound to Chime when your Boyfriend/Girlfriend/Crush/Stalkee Signs Online
What's your auditory fancy? AIM had you covered. Rather than the basic open door/slam door sounds, you could choose an "Eep!" or "Ding Dong!" to alert you of the arrival of a socially significant peer. That signature noise was enough to make any of our pre-adolescent hearts skip a beat or two.
Know the Lingo and Punctuation Norms
The moment I realized that when I think to myself "I don't know" the letters IDK appear instantaneously in my mind's eye, I knew my love affair with IM had probably gone too far. Most of the old standards are still in circulation today ("OMG", "WTF", and the like), but we did have a few incredibly complicated ones to deflect our parent's curious eyes.
Speaking of i's, no one dared capitalize theirs in casual online conversation. The aforementioned alternation of capital and lowercase letters was, however, acceptable. Also, the proper way to end every sentence was with an ellipsis, even if it gradually trailed off an incomplete thought...
Choose Your Emoticons Wisely
Writing online comes with the added trouble of people misinterpreting what you wrote. The upside to this, however, was that you could always, always claim you were "jk" if what you said went over like a ton of bricks. Accidentally tell your friend they looked fat in their swimsuit at Susie's pool party? Simply add a :p or a ;) and you were totally off the hook.
Extra credit for more technically difficult but wholly unnecessary shapes such as:
A rose: @>---,---
Fish <')))))- <
Group Your Buddies by Lists with Ridiculous Names that Contain Words like "Peepz" and "Homies"
It's important to categorize all of your friends into groups, so be sure to come up with some catchy and vaguely descriptive names. Any sort of trite, overused slang to describe your friends was always a good move, especially if it was something your parents didn't understand and thus re-cemented their position as ignorant no-nothings. There are only so many times that you can explain to them that the categorization "Tight People" was not a sexually loaded term.
Find the Font and Color that Represents Your Personality
This was especially important, as it stood for how people would perceive your online identity. Were you more of a powder blue Comic Sans or a neon green italicized Helvetica? You better pick something and stick with it, because nothing was more irritating than those AIMers who would change font style and color every time they signed on. That's like them speaking in a falsetto or false baritone every time you had a conversation. It wasn't tasteful, and it just wasn't done.
Play Semi-Cruel Mind Games Through Use of AIM Functions
Not all AIM actions were well-intended. In fact, some were rather diabolical. When you were fighting with a friend, it was critical to use your AIM functions to your advantage. For example, you may select the "do not show as idle" function that forces people to worry erroneously that you're there, but you're ignoring them. Very tricky, yes, but very effective.
Blocking certain users was another popular ploy, as was clicking "Warn" to up their warning level. Bonus points for using your away message to write cryptic, esoteric things like, "You know what you did." Come to think of it, plenty of us employ these very same methods on Facebook today. You can take the 90s kid off the AIM, but you can't take the AIM out of the 90s kid.
It just goes to show you that no matter how mature we may think we've become, we can still read through these and think, "Oh, that's a good idea!" So, farewell for now, everyone, or TTFN for those of you who are so AIMily inclined. Check back the rest of this week for some wonderful 90s Thanksgiving TV episodes to tide you over for the long holiday weekend. Until then, *~*~*~hAvE a GrEaT tHaNkSgIvInG eVeRyOnE~*~*~*