By staff writer Chris Phelan

“Everything that can go wrong on IM, will go wrong.”
-Murphy, best-selling author of “10 Million Things You Hate About Life”

Everybody remembers the first moment they got addicted to instant messaging. Most likely, it happened to you during the America Online craze, a chunk of heaven for us teenagers and a gift from hell for our parents, who paid approximately $700/hour for our wildly uninhibited internet usage. “Why can’t you just talk to your friends on the phone?!” they would gripe. But to no avail. If it came down to our parents paying the heating bill or the America Online fees, we’d gladly doublebag a couple sweaters while typing away in 28.8kbps wonderland.

We endured modem sounds, busy signals, and incredibly slow-loading AOL graphics, but we were hooked. Once we added a few friends to our buddy lists, we couldn’t stop. It was our drug. Twenty friends wasn’t enough. We needed more. Better sign up our little brothers and sisters to beef up our buddy lists. We secretly wondered how it would feel to have a hundred buddies. We secretly envied the people who did.

We did not, however, envy those kids who had CompuServe. If you knew somebody who used CompuServe, the phrase “fuck them” probably comes to mind. You see, CompuServe didn’t have Gay/Lesbian Chat Rooms to abuse like us AOL kids did. And nothing seemed more earth-shattering to us than entering one of those rooms and typing “25/m/ny…..I WANT A PENIS NOWWWWWWWWWWW,” then hurriedly exiting the chat room, terrified that an actual homosexual would talk to us.


Go ahead and stick that “69” in your screenname. You’re not a kid anymore.

But back to the point: fuck those CompuServe kids. AOL was where it was at and everybody knew it.

And you can go ahead and admit it: the day AOL increased the maximum amount of characters you could have in your screenname from 8 to 12 was one of the greatest days you’ve ever known. Deep inside, you always knew that a measly 8 letters or numbers was holding you back from maximum screenname creativity. But with 12?? The sky was the limit. The limit being characters. But that’s all the sky had to be back in those days. Simpler times.

But over the years, I’ve noticed some particular things about AIM that have remained constant. And now, based on these historical constants, I present to you…

Murphy’s Laws of Instant Messaging:

1. You will always lose the most important IMs when you are accidentally kicked offline.

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CorollaryThe more IMs you receive while away from your computer, the greater your chances of getting signed off.

It will happen. You will return to your computer and stare at the screen in stunned silence, mouth agape, and realize that somehow you got signed off while you were away, having thus lost potentially dozens and dozens of IMs sent to you. These messages could’ve contained any amount of information, including, but not limited to: confessions from one of your crushes, crucial party heads-ups, and drunk IMs from your best friends. If you got signed off accidentally while you were away, rest assured you missed a lot of important shit.

2. The longer you spend creating away messages, the worse they will get.

You will go through multiple drafts of away messages at least once a day, trying to find the perfect balance of wit and coolness. In the end you will realize it’s only the most spontaneous ones that work. So, after a few minutes grasping for a keystroke of genius, you achieve neither wit nor cool, instead walking away demoralized like the uncreative jackass you are as you sadly click, “Default Away Message.”

3. The perfect profile will always exceed AIM’s character limit.

You will spend many minutes creating the perfect profile, only to be greeted with:

“The Personal Profile you have entered is too long. The limit is 1024 characters.”

WHAT??! THIS AMAZING MESSAGING CONVENIENCE HAS BEEN CREATED FOR US AND WE CAN’T EVEN WRITE MORE THAN FIVE LINES WORTH OF OVERSIZED NEON GREEN BOLDFACE TYPE IN OUR PROFILES?

4. An “Accept Message” window will instill unnatural excitement in the receiving party.

CorollaryAn “Accept Message” window will never live up to your expectations.

No matter how cool you think you are, you will always become way too excited when the “Accept Message from User X” window pops up. Then you will become way too angry upon clicking “Yes” to said “Accept Message,” realizing it is not a long-lost friend who magically found your screenname, but an internet whore inviting you to check out her website. (Which you do. You always do.)

5. Every away message will be checked.

Corollary 1 – Every away message will be re-checked.
Corollary 2 – Every profile will be read.

It is a proven fact that you will check the away message of every screenname on your buddy list as often as possible. Manic away message checking breakouts are most prevalent during the exact moment you sit down to start your homework. Then you will begin to judge a person based on their away messages, i.e. “Wow, Jenny’s a slut for that away message,” or, “What an uncreative douchebag Barry is.”

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6. AIM Direct Connection is merely a test mechanism to ensure that your firewall still works.

You will be furious, sad, and confused all at once when you receive this message:

“Connection problem with X; the file will not be sent. (Your ‘Internet Connection Firewall’ may be on. If you and your buddy are each behind a different firewall, then the connection will not work.)”

When you receive this message—because hey, you really want that Dispatch bootleg acoustic live unmastered mp3—you’ll no doubt tell your buddy to “try again in a few seconds.” Then you’ll proceed to check and uncheck any box you can find within the AIM “Edit Preferences…” section. And it never works. “I don’t know why this isn’t working!!” you’ll pointlessly type. The moral of this is simple: firewalls were created to confuse and stifle the youth of America.

7. A buddy is forever.

You will go through your entire buddy list every few months or so and conjure up crazy reasons to keep certain people on your list that you haven’t communicated with in years. You fight the urge to alphabetize.

8. The creation of any word or acronym on AIM immediately renders said word or acronym taboo for use in real life.

Oh yes, you will secretly wish AIM lingo would catch on in real life. You occasionally even throw an “LOL” into real-world conversations, and act like you were just kidding around when it doesn’t fly. But inside, you know you have crossed a strict cyber boundary. When will the real world come around?

9. Extended idle states result in extended idle stares.

You will notice when certain people have been idle for an unbelievable amount of time. When John hasn’t been at his computer for four straight days (when previously he was at his computer every day for the last ten years), you don’t gasp and wonder if John is in some sort of terrible trouble, you just pull your roommate into the room and stare in awe at the rare “multi-day idle” upon you.

More AIM Humor: The Golden Rules of IM, Part 1 »
The Golden Rules of IM, Part 2 »
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