We don’t need AIM now, but we did back then, and some of us more than others.
The results only veered sexual sometimes, and, as a group, we never made it past giggling hysterically over tricking a grown man into wasting his time being gross with a room of kids.
We didn’t acknowledge that finding and flirting with these people (or, to use the ignominious term of the era, “cybering”) was a pastime we never had to teach each other how to pursue, even though we all knew to feign shock at the results. The sexualities of minors is always a tricky subject, even when you were the minor in question.
It would have been difficult to show anyone my face anyway; digital cameras were rare and very expensive, and messaging services didn’t support photo sharing.
Plus, I didn’t want anyone to see my face because I knew I wasn’t supposed to be doing what I was doing: searching out random people with whom I could potentially talk about sex over AIM, both in AOL chatrooms and via searching user profiles for the two horniest keywords my 13-year-old brain could think of, “sex” and “cyber.” (I told you this would be deeply embarrassing.)Teenage girls rarely get the opportunity to be the narrators of their sexualities.
Whether this was an ultimately successful pursuit is beside the point; AIM was an open door to an Internet that felt like an opportunity, or at least a place that we didn’t fully inhabit quite yet, or maybe somewhere we weren’t so trapped in the purgatory of adolescence.
That Internet is gone now, for both better and worse.In 1999 I played the viola in the middle school orchestra and I included the “9” at the end of my AIM handle because that was the number I wore on my youth soccer team.I was a “chica” in that I was a girl, but I was definitely not Latina, and I’m not sure it ever crossed my mind that using the word might lead Internet strangers to assume I was.I also wanted to masturbate, which I had learned how to do only recently.It seemed like I could kill these two birds with one stone.By my reasoning, we weren’t doing anything that mattered; back then, the internet seemed like one big video game, and the interactions we were having just about as real as blasting someone apart in Duke Nukem.