AIM: A love letter

One thing that is often ignored about millennials in the workplace when endless articles are written about them is how fast they type. In almost every workplace I’ve been in, colleagues often marvel at the speed at which their younger co-workers clack away at their keyboards.

My school, in the early 2000s, did not teach typing. While we spent a great deal of computer class time navigating the Oregon Trail, very little class time was spent with the quick brown fox jumping over the lazy dog.  How then did we all get so good at typing?

Enter AOL Instant Messenger.  Please remember, at the early days of instant messaging, text messages cost a dime. In addition, many of us still had dial-up internet, the best case scenario relied on one family computer that had to be shared with siblings. So a person had very limited computer access time to catch up with friends, and to perfect the witty banter with one’s crushes before they signed off (“brb, sister needs the comp.”) Add in the fact that a person would be having multiple conversations at the same time, all in different tiny windows, and you can see where we all developed our typing skills.

Yet, it was so much more than typing. I recall countless evenings “working on homework” while messaging with my friends. After we lost one of our classmates in a tragedy, I remember staying up that night as friends consoled and comforted each other, far too late to be on the phone. It provided me a way to stay in close contact with my friends from summer camp, some of whom are still my friends to this day. Most importantly, it helped me connect with my true love.

We told this story at our wedding—how freshmen year of college, we met at a charity dodgeball tournament where I hurt my leg, and he, working at the gym, had to fill out the accident/incident form about me. The part two of the story, directly after the meet cute, is the small chirp sound of a new message—screen name emboldened in red with a time stamped message asking if I was okay.   

It's possible I would have gotten to know him another way. The college wasn’t that big, we have similar interests. However, this messaging service allowed us, two people who had met rather coincidentally, who had zero classes together and lived in different dorms, the opportunity to check-in and say hi, every day. I had forgotten my laptop at college my first Thanksgiving break (rookie mistake) and foisted back into the computer sharing limited access to AIM, not being able to talk to him whenever I wanted, is when I knew I was in love.

My husband has his own story with AIM. Due to a severe illness, he missed most of his freshman year of high school, too ill to attend school. AIM saved him from social isolation, as he was able to keep up with his friends during that time period.

So what happened? How did something so cherished become so forgotten? So removed that I am certain that I do not know the password to my account (and should I hit password reset, it would send the credentials to an email I also no longer have access to.) It was such a good friend. Remember when AIM gave us the power to be “away” when you were really there (it didn’t narc on you with “read”) so you could only talk to who you wanted to. Remember how it didn’t auto-save your conversations so you don’t get slammed with embarrassing history of old messages (looking at you facebook.)

I suppose we could blame facebook, or unlimited text messaging plans, or gchat. My actual theory is that smart phones killed AIM—AIM was an application on your computer, that you would launch after your turned it on. Facebook and gmail, which would launch their own chat clients were web-based applications, you could take them anywhere. So as smartphones grew in popularity, people started to spend less time clicking through windows at their home computer, and when all other social media could be reached by typing a web address versus booting up an application, people started to leave AIM. And seeing one’s buddylist shrink, we left too.

So AIM, Thank you for the memories. Thank you for the typing and window switching speed that has helped me in my career. Thank you for keeping friendships strong over distance. Thank you for helping me get to know the love of my life. Thanks for everything. I’m sorry I went “away” and never came back.