A digital cultural artifact of our networking history will be lost when AOL Instant Messenger shuts down on December 15. Museum curators at places like the Internet Archives and OoCities act as conservationists for the future. Unfortunately, technology is moving too fast now for most to consider the importance of capturing our digital remains before they disappear. Let’s use this service’s discontinuation as a reminder that we should consider how our pasts can shape our futures.
“AIM” was an important cultural point for me.
This was the primary instant messaging platform I used from the late 90s up until recently. Even after AOL announced their plans earlier this year to discontinue their instant messaging service, it was still my preferred service over other instant messaging platforms like ICQ and even Twitter. Their interfaces are just clunkier.
Allow me a paragraph on nostalgia.
I grew up shy. Enabling people to talk via instant message was nice because you could easily look up people based on similar interests. I had a school project once, so I made a new account, sent out messages to dozens of people, and did what I was too shy to do in person. It was still nerve-racking.
We still have that. It’s just different now.
For the shy folks growing up now, I’m sure there are new ways where they could reach out to hundreds or even thousands of people to chat or help out with school surveys. Technological ubiquity hadn’t really caught on back then. Social media wasn’t around. It’s a unique time period for specific people.
AIM shutting down isn’t about the technology.
The nostalgia stems from those late nights where I felt too shy to talk to anyone at school. I wanted to be social, so I went on AIM. “Mr. Gou” was my first digital friend. We parted ways almost twenty years ago now, but still, hearing “Gerudo Valley” sometimes reminds me of those conversations.
Through the years, people migrated away from the platform.
My friends list dropped off after the early 00s. It’s been at least that long since I received a random message from a stranger saying hello that wanted earnestly to chat. That isn’t a part of everyone’s digital history. For me, it was like the first major step toward overcoming my personal shyness.
AIM helped me develop self-confidence, in a way.
“Ever use AOL Instant Messenger?” “Oh yeah, sure.” “They’re shutting down the service soon.” “They’re still around?!” AIM’s been off the radar for years now, and the only folks that still use it are the ones that hadn’t adopted other services. The only other reasonable service, ICQ, has still taken a while to adjust to in the last few months.
Still, like “you’ve got mail,” there is culture to preserve.
For most people, technology is all about buying the latest and greatest. For some people, technology is a tool to accomplish a goal and nothing more.
For me, AIM is the same as a classic car that wasn’t preserved.