IMs change college communication
Colby Pierce / Special Projects
AOL Instant Messenger, or better known as AIM, is a very
familiar device to college students. It is all too common to
hear the famous "sign on" noise or the sound of
outgoing or incoming instant messages in classes that have
AIM service began with the generation that is currently in
college or just out of college. It was launched in May 1997,
while many of today's college students were in middle
school or early high school.
Many students remember their first times instant
Some memories even consist of parents supervising time spent
online to make sure correspondences were legit and safe.
Sophomore Beth Elmore began using instant messenger when she
was in seventh or eighth grade.
"I remember it was hard to convince my parents to let
me get AIM, but once I got it, it was definitely the coolest
thing to have," Elmore said. "My parents monitored
a little bit while I was on, but mostly because they wanted
to make sure I was getting work done and not online all the
time. We also had dial-up back then, my parents hated when I
would keep the phone line busy, so I could never stay on too
AIM can bring many good attributes, but it also has a down
It can be a great way to stay connected with friends who go
to different colleges without having to write mail or use the
Elmore finds AIM useful.
"Instant messaging people is a great way to get in
touch with people,"
Elmore said. "If I need help with homework, I can just
send a quick message and know the answer almost immediately
after I sent it."
Traveling abroad is much easier with the increase in
technology. A student can travel abroad almost anywhere in
the world for a semester, yet stay online and talk to a
student at Elon or anywhere as if they never left. The only
problem that exists is working through time differences.
Sophomore Marlaena DeHaven has been abroad many times. She
knows how useful instant messaging is.
"One of my best friends is currently studying abroad
through James Madison University in London for the
semester," DeHaven said. "I'm used to talking
to her all the time and I thought I would miss her a lot, but
instant messaging has made it very simple to keep in touch
Being able to communicate over the Internet is much easier
than having to worry about the hassle of making long distance
phone calls. It saves plenty of money by not needing to buy
many phone cards and decreases the fear of going over
allotted minutes on cell phones.
Senior Ashley McNally went abroad to London over Winter
"Instant messaging made it so much easier to talk to my
family and friends," McNally said. "It was easy;
all I had to do was go to an Internet café. I had
international cell phone minutes on my phone, but I knew my
parents would kill me if I had a high phone bill for just
wanting to keep in contact!"
AIM brings out the side of people that is not usually
Many people have become lazier becaus of instant messages.
It is not odd for roommates to sit online and talk to each
other rather than getting up and going to the other room to
talk to each other.
These are not rare occurrences either. It can be nightly
AIM becomes very popular when assignments are due or when
focusing on homework is necessary. That is when people scroll
up and down their buddy lists—multiple
times—reading each person's away message and
Elmore falls prey to the AIM distraction.
"I don't actually chat online too much, but when I
do, I get distracted and do not get other things done,"
Elmore says. "It definitely can take away from studying
Sometimes the best amusement is when a person on a buddy
list updates their away message while the endless scrolling
is going on. That means there is something new to read!
Some stalker-like behavior occurs through AIM. Many
students' buddy lists can be full of friends they
don't even talk to anymore. They are only on to be
randomly checked for updated profiles or to see what away
There seems to be a birth of acronyms now as the AIM
language. Many people use abbreviations such as,
"LOL" (laughing out loud), "BRB" (be
right back), "OMG" (oh my gosh), "SRY"
(sorry) and "TTYL" (talk to you later) just to name
These are used in normal conversation between people.
Sometimes students' carry over the AIM language into
normal communication, telling people "BRB" when
leaving a room instead of saying be right back, which can be
weird to hear.
Creativity is important when it comes to Instant Messenger.
Each person's individual screen name has some reference
to something—an inside joke, a person, a team, club or
nickname. Each screen name describes who somebody is; it is a
small lens into who and what a person likes.
Junior Alex Bodine's screen name was easy to come up
"I made it up," Bodine said. "It basically
just popped into my head. I didn't have it until college.
I had a different screen name until my freshman year, but
somehow AOL cancelled my screen name and I was forced to make
a new one."
There are other ways to personalize AIM.
There is an option to choose an icon, which is a small
picture of whatever a person decides they like. Icons are
available all over the Internet, and then all it takes is
downloading it into AIM.
Profiles are a major area of personalization also. There are
many options when making a profile. There is an array of
colors people can choose from to make as the profile
background or to use for font in the profile.
Profiles contain random tidbits of information for anybody
to read. It can include dates of upcoming events, famous
quotes, funny quotes from friends or a place to put what club
or organization users are in.
Bodine fashions his profile to his hometown, Cleveland,
"I always like to have something in my profile about my
hometown teams, just to show my pride and loyalty to the
teams," Bodine said.
"I want people to see it so that they remember where I
come from and how much I support my teams—win or lose.
I like having things like that in my profile for originality,
because people's profiles get repetitive and boring, so I
try to change mine around a lot."
Many people find blank profiles not only lame but also
Some students did not use Instant Messenger in high school
for various reasons.
Sophomores Marella Peele and Rachel Stroud were roommates
together their freshman year. Coincidentally, they both
hardly used AIM before college.
Peele said, "I used AOL instant messenger in middle
school, but once all my friends got to high school we were
just together all the time either in class, sports or
extra-curricular activities. Once we finally got home at
night, we either talked on the phone or did homework."
Stroud's reasons are similar to Peele's.
"I never felt the need to use AIM in high school
because I was busy with other activities outside of
school," Stroud said. "When I did get home I had to
do my homework and I wanted to chill and watch
Both Peele and Stroud have grown to like AIM and use it
"Now that I've been exposed to AIM, it definitely
makes life a little easier," Peele said. "I cannot
imagine going through college without its convenience."
Stroud said, "I do like how I can multitask with AIM. I
can be listening to music, typing a paper and talking online
at the same time. Plus the service is generally free, that
always helps me out."
Instant messaging has grown to be used on many platforms
over the years. The most popular form of instant messaging
without a computer is text messaging on phones. It is
inevitable to find at least one person in class or to hear
the beeping of phones when text messages are received.
Contact Colby Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or