I am an 80s baby. Born at the tail end of the decade stonewashed and hairsprayed into history books, along with its pop culture princesses and Prince (No, literally, Prince: “I just want your extraaa timmmeeeee”). Being an 80s baby means I have elementary school pictures where my bangs are teased, like, really big. I wore obnoxious, oversized headbands. With bows. A sweatshirt featuring neon Mickey Mouse faces. Shoes that lit up when I walked. We were the Cool Kids.
As we grew up, us 80s kids were on the frontlines as soldiers of the technology boom in the 90s. New communication channels emerged. We knew about the chat rooms with the creepy people that were all “a/s/l” and “Wanna cyber?” Which I feel creepy even typing. We were there when the cell phones got smaller and the World Wide Web got wider. But before the days of text messaging and Facebook, there was one communication tool that, with one door opening, one door slamming, and one away message, could speak thousands of words:
AOL Instant Messenger. Or AIM, for short.
That little yellow running man with his buddy lists of heartbreak. Wherever he was going , we were behind him. All of us, with our angsty attitudes and our Mudd jeans, our adidasmoves cologne, our Lip Smackers. Our hormones. And AIM—a vessel where we could create a screen name and chat with eachother. Or rather, IM each other. We took great thought in creating our own screen names. Deep Introspection. It reflected our identity, after all. Our true selves.
Mine was DaddyzGurl66. With a z.
Back in my middle school years, I had a nightly ritual. I’d click on that AOL icon—like a Bermuda triangle, lost in a web of teen spirit---and wait for the dial-up to connect (“burrrr, burr, burrrrrrrrrrrr, whoosh of flurry noises). I’d sign in. I’d hold my breath as my buddy list loaded. And with a scan of screen names, I’d look for my Crush of the Week. Was he online? Away? Idle? And if he wasn’t online, when would that door open?! Once I heard a creak and see that crude or boyish screen name in bold (boy screen names usually included either a sports/band reference or the number 69), I would exhale with relief and inhale with excitement:
And now, my friends, is when you let the game begin. You know the one. And if you don’t, here’s how the AIM Game was played:
STEP ONE: You wait.
You think, “I will not IM him or her first.” You busy yourself with the other flashing IM windows or surf the ‘Net (because that was a slang term actually used by some people back then).
STEP TWO: Put up Cryptic Away Message. A cryptic away message is strategic. By putting up an away message, you are signaling to your Person of Interest that yes, you are actually at your computer. Because, you see, you were there to put your away message up. Usually with some cryptic N’Sync song lyric. Lots of ~*~*~ and <3s. Or even better, you copy and paste something a fellow buddy-lister said. WITH the timestamp and their screen name. That tactic always screamed, “Look, I am talking to people! And they are funny! So I am cool!” Also, I am online. So you can IM me.
STEP THREE: Take the away message off. Because the away message wasn’t used to actually signify you are away, come on now. It was to show you are there. But not there. BUT NOW IM BACK SO PLEASE IM ME.
STEP FOUR: You wait some more. A different person IMs you—NO! YOU GOT MY HOPES UP! I THOUGHT IT WAS MY CRUSH OF THE WEEK! DANG YOU, BEST FRIEND, COOLCAT7234.
STEP FIVE: You IM your person of interest. Or, if the AIM Little Yellow Running Man Gods have smiled down upon you:
STEP SIX: Person of Interest IMs you. Signal the choir. Giddy butterflies. Gasps of relief. Inside you are thinking, “OHMYGOSH HI YES I AM SO GLAD YOU IM’ED ME” but instead, you:
STEP SEVEN: Wait. You can’t reply to your Person of Interest right away. That’s too eager. So after he or she IMs you, you wait at least 30 seconds. And even though you are really excited and want to say hiImreallygladyouIMedmeyoujustmademynight, instead you reply with:
“Hey” is usually followed by some sort of “what’s up?” comment. Depending on your preference, it can be the traditional “What’s up?” Or “Wazzup?” Or, if you’re feeling really creative, a “Waz ^?”
Which then will prompt you to say some sort of not too much. An “n2m”. But do not forget to say “you?” after. This keeps the conversation going.
And after talking about school or practice or whatever—the whole time trying to balance the “I’m not replying too eagerly” with the “I am talking to you so I hope you don’t get offline,” the first person to leave will say “g2g”. This is when you hope it will be followed with a “ttyl.” A ttyl—talk to you later—signifies another AIM conversation in the future, which means you, lucky dog, get to go through the angst of door opening and who IMS who first all over again.
It’s all very complex, I know. But that’s the AIM game.