Last week the internet held its collective breath and gasped as it was announced Aol would soon shut down AIM, the instant-messaging service it’s run for 20 years.
The news spurred an outpouring of remembrances from people, especially who grew up with the service, for whom it was the proto-social network. Most of them were young – high school age or younger – when the service was introduced and most popular. It’s where they shared song lyrics, connected with like-minded friends regardless of physical proximity, digitally flirted and more.
I was a bit too old to ride that particular wave and so didn’t have quite the same level of emotional attachment to AIM. There’s no deep nostalgia for late nights spent discussing miscellanea, developing the linguistic shortcuts that helped facilitate speedy conversations. There’s no memory of away messages using lines from whatever poet best represented my current existential angst.
That’s not to say I didn’t use it. In the days before Slack, Facebook Messenger and more – all of which are the “new ways” we communicate that have lead to the demise of AIM – IM was a great long-distance communications tool. So it was part of my productivity mix for many years, especially through Adium, which allowed for the use of AIM, YIM and Gchat.
For me there’s one abiding memory of AIM: It was how I communicated on a regular basis with Tom Biro after I began writing for AdJab, the now-shuttered advertising blog established by Weblogs, Inc. Tom and I chatted regularly, he in New Jersey and me in Chicago, as one of us wrote new stories and more.
One moment in particular jumps out. I had written a story about some new development with TiVo and its implications for the ad industry, I don’t remember the specifics. In the post I mentioned how while TiVo was great for ad-skipping, sometimes you had to rewind because you went too far and were back into the meat of the show you were watching. After doing so I added the parenthetical statement “(you’re probably drunk).”
When Tom reviewed the post he IMd me something along the lines of “Yeah, you’re fired.” It was meant in jest, of course, just one of countless times Tom would fire me in our years at AdJab and then MWW Group because I’d done something annoying. He’d also remind me on a number of occasions that my commentary on some issue was so dry he couldn’t tell if I was kidding or not, which isn’t uncommon in my life.
No, I don’t have the same “OMG a part of my formative life is ending” feeling many do. I understand why they feel such a connection to it. It’s something I have for elements of my own childhood that have been swept into the dustbin. But the way it facilitated communication between myself and my boss was just the first step in a career that’s seen me working remotely in one way or another for much of the last 12 years. For that, I’m grateful for AIM.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.