Reminiscing About Instant Messaging Because I Am Old

I miss instant messaging. So much of my youth was dictated by that little window, always open in the computer background. Before texting, skyping, and snapchatting, there was a simple conversation scroll that you could hop into any time – provided the other person hadn’t put up an away message.

(I used to put so much effort into crafting away messages that I kept a Word document of saved away messages I thought were particularly clever. Unfortunately, I was also 15, so “clever” meant “mostly coherent.”)

All throughout those long high school years, I would spend my evenings down in the basement, idly aim-chatting the night away with my friends. It seemed like the perfect situation for my introverted teenage self – at home, safe and quiet, but still maintaining a social presence. If my body hadn’t demanded sustenance, I could have stayed down there indefinitely.

(In reality, most friends wanted to stay up chatting well past my 10 PM sleepytime, so almost all my saved conversations contain a good ten minutes of wheedling as I attempted to extricate myself from the computer. Common phrase: “Okay, I am definitely going to go to bed now.”)

I’m away from the keyboard more now than I was in my youth, but I still yearn occasionally for that safety net conversation – those friends who were always available online, ready to chat about nothing, any time, day or night. Of course, these days I can just post an amusing anecdote to Facebook when I feel the need for social acceptance and be instantly delighted with the (minor) deluge of likes and comments. But reaching a wider audience of more distant acquaintances isn’t always preferable. Sometimes anecdotes, no matter how humorous, need the back and forth of a conversation to truly nail them down into comic gold. Without instant messaging, I’m a little on my own.

(Not that instant messaging was all fun and games. Like any method of discourse, it led to tough talks with friends, and even, on at least one occasion, the dreaded break-up conversation. At the time, it was totally socially acceptable for a couple of teens to break up via aim, but it still sucked.)

Texting took over from instant messaging during college and, for a while there, I fully backed texting’s omnipotence. Quick, tidy conversations on the go? Sign me up. Maintaining a conversation while sprinting across campus without being attached at the hip to my massive PC was a blessing. But as time has passed, texting lost it’s luster. Maybe it was my phone’s unwieldy keyboard or my friend’s tendency to wait three hours before responding. Or my own tendency to wait three hours before responding – or to forget to respond entirely. Whoever introduced the concept that waiting before responding makes you seem cooler was a real dick. I’ve since learned that if I have something to say, I should just say it. Sometimes.

(For whatever reason, years of having conversations largely through text interfaces never led me to disparage the English language with modern shorthands – “I got sumthing 4 u lol” and the like. Going through old saved instant messages, I find my most common failing was a lack of apostrophes and an overabundance of caps lock. But, as we all know, caps lock is cruise control for cool.)

I wonder if my parents secretly miss phone calls and if their parents miss sending letters. Somewhere down the line, some descendant must miss having actual conversations, face-to-face. My first important conversations, the one’s where I made friends for life, the one’s where I subtly attempted to flirt with girls, all of those conversations took place in instant messaging. Kids these days, they’ll remember the first time they sent a snapchat of their dick to a girl. And they’ll remember it fondly. I guess I’m just getting old. It’s about time.

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