At the beginning, there was AOL Instant Messenger. Actually, that was not the beginning. Talkomatic, CB Compuserve Simulator and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) preceded it. But AIM was the beginning somethinga gateway to real-time, permanent Internet communication for standards.
You didn’t have to be a computer nerd to get on the AIM train. Your parents received the compact disc in the mail, you connected your transparent wired phone to a modem connected to your Gateway 2000, and you’re off. Rather, you were activated. Very online, and not knowing at that moment that the portal would disappear behind you once you cross, that you would never again live a life completely offline.
AIM, which launched 25 years ago this month, represented that moment for me. It propelled me into a universe of unlimited pixels, endless distractions, and a penchant for bland display names (my only adornment was my basketball shirt number, glued to my initials). It was also a live social network. A digital door creaked open and me and millions of others rushed to our seats to see who had just logged in, who was going to chat.
Sometimes you had to walk away. So you sent an Away message: I’m not here. I’m in class / playing / my dad needs to use the comp. I left you an emo quote that shows how deep I am. Or, here’s a song lyrics that indicate I am for above you. It doesn’t matter if my Away message is addressed to you.
I miss Away’s posts. This nostalgia lies in layers of abstraction; I probably miss the novelty of the internet in the 90’s, and I also miss just being … away. But these are the same messages as Away. The code snippets that Maginot Lines built around our availability. An absent message was a text box full of possibilities, a mini-MySpace profile, or a Facebook status update years before they existed. There was also a limit: a message from afar not only appeared in response after someone sent you an instant messaging message, but was fully visible to that person. before they sent you instant messages.
There is nothing like our modern messaging apps. Very well, you will insist that I mention some of the technology companies of messaging railings that have been launched in recent years. On the iPhone and iPad, there are “Do Not Disturb” and “Focus” modes, while the Android operating system supports “Do Not Disturb” and “Schedule Shipping,” which, as a Google spokesman said, ” It’s great when you’re texting in different time zones, such as when you want to send a happy birthday in the morning to your London friend. Yes, you can “mute notifications” on WhatsApp.
The Slack Workplace Chat app offers “Update Your Status,” the closest thing we have to Away Messages today. You can justifiably warn that you’re out of the office or put a “sick” emoji on your profile. Or, you typed “Typing, please DND”, because you were once again late. That, it turns out, is an invitation to be upset anyway.
These are not railings. These are soft orange cones that we all stumble upon, like 15-year-olds in driver education. Even names with these characteristics (Focus, Schedule Send) are phrases derived from a work-obsessed culture. Recover boredom, poetry, pink fountains, tildes and asterisks.
What I’m remembering is, of course, a completely different technology protocol. Instant messaging and text messaging. Today the two are virtually indistinguishable, but 25 years ago these experiences were disparate. AIM was a desktop client that sent snippets of information to an Internet server when you signed in, launching your arrival to people on your friends list, and showing you the same information when your friends started. session. It used a proprietary protocol called OSCAR, which meant Open System for Communication in Realtime. Real time meant live chat. Text messaging, on the other hand, referred to SMS, or short message service. And that was especially true for mobile devices connected to cellular networks.