AIM Addiction

by Dan Knecht | 11/11/02 6:00am

I have a problem. I am addicted to AOL Instant Messenger. I have been for the past few years. Ever since I typed my first few friends' screen names into my buddy list, I can't seem to sign off from this terrible addiction, and it's getting worse. I've noticed many of my friends are suffering from this disease. I even started a chat room about our problem. I might invite you.

My problem started innocently enough. I had a little extra time, signed on and started exploring the world of AIM. When my first instant message popped up, I felt this rush of adrenaline through my fingers. I typed back feverishly. Some of my buddies had little cute pictures at the bottom left side of their box. I was envious. I loathed them for their creativity. I jumped on the virtual bandwagon and never looked back. Keeping up with cyberbob has been my number-one priority. My first buddy icon was a tree, I believe. Very innocent. However, a competitive spirit swept through my cyberspirit as I realized my buddies had better buddy icons. Some were animated; others had songs and cute pictures. One buddy even scanned a photograph of himself and plopped it into his buddy icon box. I was livid. I struck back with a picture of David Hasselhoff, seized from the Internet. Sure, it was over the top, even stupid, but I felt better. You can learn a lot about a person from his or her buddy icon. It was the closest thing to a first impression. Fortunately, my cyber friends recommended that I drop the Baywatch dude.

After amassing a buddy list larger than Dartmouth's incoming freshman class, I decided to rank them, one by one. I first tried alphabetical order -- I found that too egalitarian. I moved my favorite buddies to the top and moved the taciturn ones to the bottom. If you fell out of favor, bam! You hit the bottom of the list, and trust me, it's lonely down there. Nothing personal, really. It was great! I grouped them into different buddy groups, named the groups and shuffled them around like no one's business. I had so much power, or so I thought. This was when I lost control. I placed my brother in his own group, my sisters in their own group. Dartmouth students had their own, as well as my coworkers. I rearranged my buddies religiously. I loved when people switched screen names. Every time I heard the sound of a new IM, I was giddy. I got high on instant messages.

Soon enough, Instant Messenger permeated every facet of my life. I stopped laughing. I started LOLing and LMAOing. "I'll be right back," no, "brb." Professors and friends alike received the cordial "ttyl" and curt "c ya." In return, I received grimaces and blank stares. I didn't care, though. I could commiserate with my new online buddy from California. She was a Victoria's Secret model. Could she have been a 48-year-old creepy auto mechanic from Ohio? Sure, she probably was. I didn't know, nor did I care. She was on the top of my buddy list. My real friends took a back seat.

I began to harness the power of the away message. Disappointed with the hackneyed "I am away from my computer right now" and the totally inappropriate "I am not available because I am playing a computer game that takes up the whole screen," I began inventing away messages. I quoted Panda House fortune cookies, stole other people's witty comments and ripped off conversation lines. I wasn't original, but who was?

I was no longer an AIM fledgling. I graduated to hardcore user. I loved that yellow AOL guy. He's my idol, the present-day golden calf to throngs of AIMers. Away messages allowed me to leave Instant Messenger on all day long without deceiving my buddies. They knew where I was and what I was doing, as did I for them. I had my entourage of addicted buddies. When they were gray, I had a heavy heart. But I knew they'd be back.

One fateful day last year, I further plunged myself into the AIM craving. It was the buddy profile. With just one adroit right-hand click, I could unlock a whole new world. Each person is allotted to their own parcel of cyber territory. Quotes, stories, links, comments -- they all had a home in your profile. I went absolutely wild -- nirvana it was. My thoughts would be available to all my buddies and the rest of cyberspace. I created surveys, doled out interesting links and plopped down pejorative comments about my cyber cronies. Be careful, I'd misquote you if you got on my bad side.

I spend hours on AIM daily. I look at profiles, delve into subprofiles, glance at away messages and recheck them every few minutes. I hate people who sign on and off quickly. An anonymous warning seems appropriate. Repeat offenders get blocked. I might even excommunicate them from my list altogether. Goodbye! If you have a unique font and color for your IM text, I like you. Be more creative and you'll skyrocket on my buddy list. You only fuel my addiction. You are an enabler. Be careful, however -- you never know who's going to IM you next when you sign on. :)

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