AOL Instant Messenger is Away

I tried to explain AOL Instant Messenger to my wife and she didn’t get it. Surely, she pointed out, I knew there were better messengers today. Well. Yeah. But. 

AIM is going away. I read it Friday morning, and my nostalgia gland swelled up and I’ve been a little lethargic and cranky ever since.


AIM came online when I was in high school and it caught fire while I was in college—right in the sweet spot of meeting and connecting with new people. Right in the sweet spot when the web still felt like it was being run by enthusiastic amateurs, so it didn’t feel embarrassing to not know what you were doing there.

The image of AIM in my mind is the dorm rooms in Allen Hall, mainly sophomore year. The sound of AIM, of course, is the opening and closing of doors. The doodoodee of messages. This is the clearest I’ve seen that place in my mind’s eye since being there.

So much for all that. It’s not software I’m nostalgic for now is it?

It’s like the times I’ve walked around campus at the University of Illinois this year, for the first time in ages. In the summer, between terms, when the place was a ghost town. Which is appropriate. Because it’s not the place I miss, it’s the ghosts that the place conjures. I expected a wanting to be back, in time and space. I didn’t feel that. But the missing limbs throbbed anyway.

And that’s what the news of AIM closing did. Ghosts steaming out of the past. Wispy, ephemeral. I know there were stories and usernames indelibly linked to the people behind them and the holygrail search for the one true clever away message. But the details are all gone. As they should be. They were never worthy of being kept. But like a hoarder I have a few damaged urges that drive me to want to collect the details. Record the ghosts in High Definition. Which is not the right format for ghost archival anyway.

What I wanted to do was log back in and just see the contents of my Buddy List. See if I could link the usernames to the people in my mind. One more walk down the hall before the old building is demolished.

I tried to login at, but no luck—my account must have been deactivated ages ago.

Fine. So be it.

Let the ghosts remain ghosts. Let them well up in peripheral vision, remaining there like a shadow in the corner of your eye even when you turn to look directly at them. Especially when you turn to look directly at them.

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