The news just hit the Internet that AOL Instant Messenger will be going dark as of December 15, 2017. I can’t say I’m surprised to see the service being shuttered, I’m surprised it managed to last this long, but it still feels like a piece of my childhood is shutting down forever.
I remember AIM launching as the hot new alternative to ICQ back in the late ’90s. Of course a platform lives or dies by its users and AIM quickly established itself as a dominant force in the messaging space. It seemed like everyone and their mother was launching messenger apps back then just like launching social networks was the big thing in the 2000s and I have no idea what the fuck is the new hotness with the kids these days.
There were so many services that are no longer with us. Yahoo! Messenger. MSN Messenger. Surprisingly ICQ is still hanging in there, but I have no idea who uses it.
There’s no doubt that for a hot minute in the late ’90s AIM was the shit with the teenage crowd which included yours truly at the time. AOL dominated the dial-up Internet market with their freebie disks and there were a lot of teens using the service. The program was simpler and easier to use that ICQ, and it let you communicate with people on the AOL network even if you didn’t use their service which was nice.
Heck, AIM was the first mobile instant messaging app I used back on a Pocket PC Ipaq in 2002. Back then mobile devices were called PDAs and the smartphone was just a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ eye. I had to pay $20 for the privilege of using AIM on my Ipaq, they were reasonably expensive devices that catered more to a business crowd so I guess they thought they could charge it rather than giving it away for free, and I had to have a special plastic sleeve adapter to enable WiFi on the device because WiFi was still a strange new witchcraft mostly being rolled out at universities at the time. It was buggy, didn’t work that well, and conversations weren’t that great, but it was an interesting precursor to the mobile messaging world we live in today.
I think there are a few things that will forever be seared into the collective memory of the generation that came of age when AIM was the big thing. The heart pounding excitement of hearing the little door opening notification sound and checking to see if it was a girl (or guy if you were a lady, or a guy, I don’t judge) you liked logging on. Coming up with funny away messages if you were one of the lucky people to have always-on broadband in a dial-up era. The heartache of hearing the door closing sound and seeing it was your crush logging off for the night. Posting cryptic profile updates because we were all teenagers who were too chicken-shit to address our feelings head on when Top 40 song lyrics could vaguebook for us a decade before vaguebooking was defined.
Heck, I met my wife on AOL Instant Messenger. Seriously. My mom played matchmaker with a pretty girl who was an office worker at her school and we swapped screen names through her. We kept in touch for a couple of years going to school and started dating when I got to college and she was in her last year of high school. I probably wouldn’t be married to my wife today and wouldn’t have my two kids if it wasn’t for AIM and the Internet allowing us to stay in touch over the couple of years it took for us to finally get together.
I think it’s safe to say there’s a good chance my life as I know it today wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for AIM. So while I understand why AIM is shutting down and appreciate that I haven’t used the service in over a decade, there’s still a part of me that’s sad to see it go.
Goodnight, sweet prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.