The running man is dead. The running man, remember that yellow stick-figure in motion who used to greet you every time you logged onto AOL Instant Messenger?
The other day, something surprisingly-insignificant happened, AIM is no more. After more than twenty years it, is finally offline. Should anyone even care? Does anyone care?
I care, but I do not really even know why.
Maybe it is because growing up in the 90’s, AIM was an important part of who we were. We didn’t have smart phone – we didn’t have cell phones – but we were the first generation to grow up with the Internet. We learned to use the internet in school, something out parents never did. Our jaws dropped at the dizzying speed at which America got online, and dial-up providers worked their hardest to meet the demands of a fast, democratized internet. Each month AOL seemed to release a new version… 3.0… 4.0… 5.0… 6.0….
The internet was here to stay. They promised it would change our lives – and in more ways, that we could have ever imagined – it has.
AIM was more than just a component of the internet though. AIM was our own little personal corner of cyber-space. It was here that we went, for privacy; to talk to our friends and to make new ones. It was here that we went to learn – how to type, how to flirt, to how to cuss, and all those things now officially “defined” on sites like Urban Dictionary.
Sure, eventually other messaging services did become available? Remember MSN messenger? Or Yahoo Messenger? But it all started with AIM. And none of those others ever really could compete with AIMs place in out hearts. AIM was social networking before we ever even knew what social networking was.
In some ways, the prevalence of text communication in our lives now has cheapened everything that AIM was. We type words on our phones, and thanks to SMS, we send instant messages to our friends at all hours of the night. We have apps like WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger, and G-Chat. Every one of our social media platforms has direct messaging incorporated as a standard base function. It is quite clear that AIM was becoming a relic of the past. As the internet evolved beyond our computer screen to our phones, gaming counsels, and televisions – we no longer want to remain handcuffed to our computers to communicate with our friends.
But when did we stop?
Was it in one day? Did an entire generation just abandon their favorite form of virtual communication in favor of another? Or was it a slow and agonizing demise, as our attention shifted to other portions of the internet, technologically superior and more evolved, leaving AIM to just wither away and die?
I don’t know. In fact, I find it surprising that I cannot remember when something I used on a daily-basis through significant portions of my youth, abruptly stopped. When did I stop that addiction? Isn’t that one defining trait of an addict? The ability to quantify exactly how long it has been since their last fix?
I do find it almost poetic though. On December 15, 2017, the that the day after the FCC voted to repeal Net Neutrality – essentially killing the internet as we know it – AIM goes offline forever. No, in no way are these two events connected. For one thing, we do not know the repercussions of this brave, new internet in which we all coexist. But also, AOL and their software began falling into obscurity a long time ago, when they were foolish (and arrogant) enough to believe that the they could contain the vastitude of internet behind their “subscription” paywalls. I just find it proof that the Universe has a twisted sense of humor, that life is dripping with irony when we look for it.
My first internet love, died the very day after the internet was slain.