I recently got an e-mail that AOL Instant Messenger would be shutting down on December 15, 2017. I look at this with mixed emotions – on the one hand, it’s just a chat protocol, one that I don’t really use much anymore (nearly all of my AIM friends have moved on to other chats). On the other hand, it was a chat protocol that had a lot of features that I liked.
I used AIM to have active conversations with people, and, while I can still have such conversations on Slack for instance, I feel like the focus is different. In particular, it seems like the focus is more on chat rooms, which feel like unthreaded public forums and less like conversations. This frustrates me because what I want is deep conversations, and what I get is conversations that are even more shallow than the old forums I used to frequent due to the synchronous nature of the chat.
I have a lot of memories of communications that I’ve had on AIM – from role-playing to tutoring, and from heady philosophical conversations to emotional dialogs. Obviously, those memories aren’t going away, but as I think back on this, I recognize that many of these events are also in my past. I don’t stay up late role-playing with text-only chat anymore – I have a local group that I keep up with instead. I have fewer close friends that are scattered – we’re all busier, so if we want to chat, we meetup and do so.
Time will tell what this shift in the nature of chats will do for how people communicate over the internet. In the meantime, the death of AOL Instant Messenger was a small reminder of what it used to be.