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Looking to chat on those long nights

Like many, I never met him but still feel that I have lost a personal friend. I look forward to hearing your radio programs when I get up there. A great loss.

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How old am I: 42
My sexual orientation: Male
Hair color: Golden
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Soon after that, things got somewhat better.

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My parents had installed a large desktop computer in the upstairs alcove, and each day there were a few precious hours before they got home from work but after I got home from school when I could go online. Rough out there. The windows glazed the yard to black ice behind us, and we haunted chat rooms where we hoped the strangers our parents had only just recently learned to warn us about lay in wait. Often, these attempts went hand-in-hand with romantic aspirations; defining ourselves online, through this particular chat service, was the first time many of came face to face with how the desire to be known and the desire to be loved are intertwined.

I never again answered any of his chats. We were up late and we were going to go on the internet, an activity that could only be done late at night. I was Fifth grade was a particularly bad year, and I very much wanted to be someone else. We often get to our real selves from inhabiting false selves first, lying our way into a legitimate identity.

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I had some generic screen name until I realized I could create a new to flatter a middle-school paramour. The idea that they could want was…insane.

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Slightly younger friends said they rarely chatted with strangers on AIM. The later you got online, the fewer strangers were there—it is nearly inconceivable right now to imagine talking to someone on the internet whom I would legitimately consider a stranger. She experienced the normal ups and downs that a high school student she was a few years older than I was—my parents both worked at a high school so I had some background knowledge might experience.

My transition from childhood to adulthood was marked by watching that change happen, as online seeped beyond the borders of a single screen and became synonymous with everyday living. We could discover what people looked like free from both society and reality, as pure as lying. I remember a time before I knew about the internet; I remember learning what an was in a third-grade classroom. This was before AOL Instant Messenger launched as a stand-alone application, but the Buddy List and chat functions were already built into AOLand I was able to accumulate a list of people out of chat rooms who had chosen me to talk with privately, collecting rectangular windows of alternating text.

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We were newly desperate for a means of emotional surveillance, newly longing to be lonely and un-lonely all at once. I realize now that I was very likely talking with people older men, specifically who were pretending to be young women—but at the time, this was very important to me, something I really craved, because I had no one to talk to about any of it and it scared me.

Being creepy is a part of human nature, and learning to recognize and put boundaries on our own creepiness is something curricular Sex Ed should teach us, but never will. Discovering adult emotions is in great part a process of learning to be lonely. The screen filled up with red and blue screen names.

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Adults may have told us that there were weird men on the internet who wanted to have cybersex and meant it as a warning, but we took it as a promise. On December 15th, when AOL Instant Messenger disappears, wiping all chat logs and buddy lists from the internet for good, my daily life will not change at all, and neither will the daily lives of the vast majority of people whose adolescence was defined by an icon of a yellow genderless figure in motion—the internet, this place where we all live now, has far outgrown this one application.

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I just think I wanted an image of some kind. He chatted me one day and then every day.

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By using the people who lurked behind screen names as practice, I built the skills for riskier and fuller humanity. I knew nothing about the people behind these names, and so I could imagine them into infinite possibility.

Everyone is already online, and is always online. Online may purport to combat loneliness, but it also requires it as a pre-condition.

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But on AIMeven when talking to people we already knew, we invented ourselves, freed by the seeming anonymity of a screen, able to be with someone else and simultaneously alone. AIM allowed us to explore and test-drive identities, by offering a new space free of the detritus of our lives beyond it, a simulation model for the real work of becoming a person in the world. People who, like me, got their period and their first screen name the same year. Adolescence is a time when we are first confronted with these questions of self-definition, and AIM is rooted in adolescence for me because it gained popularity and a sense if not a reality of ubiquity at the exact moment I hit puberty.

AIM was a kind of a pathway to a bigger, more grownup-feeling life. We moved from private chats to long s about our days still, to this day, the primary form of intimacy I understand with another human being. All of the ways in which it allowed a particular kind of human connection spring from that anonymity, that permission to fictionalize oneself.

Do you know him from school?

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In so many ways, I was—and many of us sheltered teens online in those days were—the very thing my parents warned me about: I was the man in the white van, the sun-starved gamer covered in Cheeto dust, the sad fake online vampire in a chat room. I was listening to Ozzy Osbourne and Metallica a lot. Her problems were interesting, and easily solved. Most of fifth grade was submerged into the general memory of a bad time. Any kind.

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I could say that AIM was where I discovered that women had sexual urges. Most of us have little power over our situations, looks, or circumstances, but here each one could be a choice. One friend demonstrates this identity-grasping in the story of how his screen name developed:. But I loved being talked to about this chat, even by girls I was into.

The whole internet had something sexual about it in its early days, and that was much of what got us on there—it was the place where we were allowed to talk about things we would never say out loud. Through these late-night chats—because, like the internet itself, this long of intimacy is a late-night thing—I began to learn to relate to flesh and blood people the way I had once related to online buddies, to make the kinds of connections in recorded, breathing reality that I had once made while lying about everything to a stranger in an X-Files chat room.

In the early days of AIMonline was a place free from the tether of identity, where we could be someone invented, or where we could be no one at all. And she talked to her online friend on AOL every day. AIMtoo, could be a life raft for people nights of heterosexual and binary norms. Being a bunch of text is much easier than being a body, and makes possibilities seem infinite. It was my first sense about the internet that if I died in the game, I might also die in real life. My fantastical world now had a recurring character. I could simply tell strangers I was, and they would believe me, and I could experience the reactions and treatment that beautiful people experienced.

In these unmarked spaces, it becomes possible to imagine how we might exist with each other without laws and obligation, inheritance and surveillance, money and family. This is how I became erikloveslindsay which quickly became eriklovesashley which looking became manmuststrive which quickly became swissarmyromancer.

The long static of the dial-up modem resolved into a friendly chime, and I was online. But for some of us, people those situated right at the seam of a wholly online world and a time before the internet, something will be lost to history. Canonical literature contains countless stories of people getting to elsewhere, leaving the known delineations—going to sea, going west in wagons, building towns out of nothing, wandering the desert, getting lost. Puberty had made me suddenly and all at once un-beautiful, and the way other kids shunned me had become decidedly more cruel as we all began to discover that everybody else had bodies.

I do not think I felt insane.

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No one goes or comes back. I would listen for the siren noise of start-up whirr and ping and click, the sound that meant the world was getting larger. Relationships online are the same relationships as in person, extended into another convenient replicative medium. I changed schools and started to develop real in-person friends, and to talk to them on AIM at least as much as I talked to strangers.

I ghosted. All of my chats with him and s to him, every piece of information, anecdote, fact, and story I told him, were entirely fictional. This was where we grew up, and the loss is a little like finding out hood home where neither you nor anyone you know has lived in many years is being torn down. I mean that really sums it all up: two romantic rejections plunged me immediately into flirtations with voluntarism, naturally leading to emo. The AOL modem start-up noise was, for me and for many people of my generation, the ritual that permitted the crossing from the mundane realm to the fantastical one.

We plod through our days continually yanked back into the truths of our character, our circumstances, our actions and our pasts. There were definitely some confessions of love or crushes or desire via AIM that went completely un-discussed in real life, which made it feel like a liminal and particular space. The way boys were and are taught about girls—this is not news—is about acquisition and manipulation. We all were, us almost-teenagers gathered around a screen making up lies about sex to strangers.

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The internet even in its earliest public iteration made everyone on it creepy, made everyone suspect just because they were there. My first experience of romantic love was catfishing someone on the internet.

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It also felt very anonymous, like I would never meet or see these people and they would never know who I was, so it felt very safe. She was beautiful, funny, popular, and accomplished, involved in many extra-curriculars and had an abundance of friends.

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The thing I liked most about him was how much he liked me. But before the internet was just the place where we all lived, the point was not to be yourself. The official self is here; online is the town as much as the town itself is. We did not create the internet, but the internet happened to us, a parallel reflective adolescence.

On occasion his name would appear on my buddy list and I would feel vaguely guilty and vaguely curious. And I loved being her.

MeInsane1 says it was through conversations he had on AIM that he realized women actually experienced sexual desire. We could be whomever we decided to be. In our real lives, the ones with rental agreements and tax forms, the ones that the banks and the government know about, our fixed identities act as a tether. So I invented a different person to be. It was spring ofand AOL had just begun to invade suburban homes by way of friendly, accessible floppy disks that arrived in the mail in plastic-wrapped bundles. The announcement of the impending shutdown has brought on a lot of nostalgia.

This was my first internet: the secret, late-night one, a group of nervous friends gathered around a slow-connecting magic box full of strangers who might talk to us about all the sex none of us had yet had. Occasionally Twitter, or even in-person conversation, erupts in people sharing their screen names, half-proud and half-embarrassed, and offering recollections of being very young on a very young internet.

As is only right, all of them are quoted here solely by their screen names, as a gesture toward a time when that was all that identified us. It became possible to know people independent of how we felt about their physical bodies when they stood in front of us.