Idleness a Dream: Confessions of KRSTN3423 AOL Addictions Destroy Real Lives, One Away Message at a Time

By Kristin White

I have 156 people on my Buddy List; of those, approximately 12 are people I have neither met nor talked to, people who have no idea who I am or that I even exist. These people fall under the buddy group “random,” a group consisting mainly of my roommates’ significant others from home, their roommates and people whose away messages are consistently worth reading. Having never had an actual conversation with them, I maintain relationships with these people based solely on their away messages and updates to their profiles. Consequently, I must assume that if I have assorted unknowns on my Buddy List, there are people I have never met who are checking my away message and judging me by its content.

In some ways, the away message has become an expression of online identity, and don’t think that people don’t have separate online identities. Some people take theirs entirely too seriously. The intensity of AIM profiles never fails to amaze me. People manage to sum up the meaning of their existence with a colorful box and a creative font. Shouldn’t we be somewhat more complex than that?

AIM is a crutch for the socially challenged. It takes away the spontaneity that normal social interaction requires. The worst part about AIM is that it fosters so many unhealthy habits that have become acceptable and commonplace in a college setting.

For example, I find myself incorporating generally accepted AIM abbreviations into my everyday vocabulary. When leaving the room or getting up from the table, I feel it is only polite to let my friends know I’ll “brb.” Oftentimes, in order to pick up the pace of a tedious conversation, I substitute abbreviations for words in an odd sort of doublespeak – almost as if my speech patterns are regressing, definitely not what my parents are paying for me to get out of my Georgetown education.

The sad thing is that people understand me.

AIM allows anyone with access to your screen name and a computer to know your whereabouts at all times. The allure of being idle is a driving force in online activity. Idle or active status means so much more than its face value. The shadow that falls upon the idle has a certain connotation, something to the effect of, “I am not messing around with this AIM silliness. I have a life out there that is worth living.”

Nobody wants to admit that they waste any of their valuable time reading and re-reading away messages, yet we all leave away messages assuming that we are important enough that people need to know where we are at all times.

Additionally, people just don’t respect the spirit of the away message like they used to. It has transgressed its original purpose to let people know that you are away from your computer and not to expect a response. Instead, it has become a venue for ridiculous anecdotes, inspirational and thought provoking quotes, as well as forced subtleties. Unless gray idleness accompanies an away message, it means nothing. It’s almost as if the away message of an un-idle person is a lie. People will IM away knowing that you will sacrifice your “awayness” in a moment of weakness.

These intricacies present a generational barrier that the old folk will never quite break through. Although my parents have AOL, they do not understand the norms and rules of AIM culture. The first time my dad encountered one of my away messages it went something like this:

Dad: Hey girl

My away message: out..

Dad: out of what?

Dad: Kris? You there? TALK TO ME!!!

Dad: What are you out of? Do we need to get you something??

Dad: CALL US!!!!!!!!!

This was followed by multiple frantic parental messages left on my voice mail. They will never get it, but maybe that means it’s not important.

In my frustration with the AIM culture I attempted a boycott last week; to be honest, I failed miserably. I lasted maybe 22 hours before I broke down and signed on, and before that I cheated and checked away messages on my roommates’ computers in an effort to be an invisible player in the game. The only thing I achieved by doing that was a guilty feeling about having cheated the system, and even worse, I incurred the wrath of my roommates for disturbing their sleeping mice and robbing them of their idleness.

All this reflection leads me to one conclusion: There is a problem with our generation when we feel like we might miss something important online while living our lives in the real world.

gg, ttyl.

Kristin White is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

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