The ubiquitous AIM

At the University of Maryland, College Park, and likely many other universities across the nation, AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) has become ubiquitous. One almost cannot be a successful student without it. Throughout my four years of college, I never knew a single person who couldn’t be contacted through AIM. Everyone had it. And the reason everyone had it was because of a self-reinforcing mechanism, not because everyone came into school having already used it.

I’ll use my friend Jared as an example. When he first came to UMD he didn’t use AIM. Maybe the people at his high school used ICQ, MSN, email, or heck, maybe they didn’t even regularly use the Internet. But once Jared got to school, he basically had to download an AIM client and register for an account. Why? Because everyone else uses it, and you never want to be out of the loop.

Instant messaging is fast and instant, unlike email. It’s more casual than using the phone. It’s the perfect tool for asking your classmates questions and coordinating work on group projects. It’s essential. All college students these days have computers and all of them use some instant messaging application. At UMD, we all used AIM, but it’s conceivable that at another school, for whatever reason, everyone might use a different IM application, like MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, etc.

In my experiences online outside of university, I find instant messaging much more frustrating. Not everyone uses AIM. A lot of people use MSN, for whatever reason, and so I’ve had to register an MSN Messenger account (luckily the IM client I use, Pidgin, handles multiple protocols). I even was forced into getting Skype, because a lot of people use that. I haven’t used ICQ in awhile but I still have an account, just in case I run into someone again who uses nothing else. It’s annoying and inconvenient having to keep track of all of these various ways of communicating with people. I liked the setup we had at UMD better — everyone was on AIM and that was that.

I wonder if anyone has thoroughly studied the impact of instant messaging on our social interactions yet. At least at UMD, it was huge. Many people conducted the majority of their social interactions and keeping touch with everyone through AIM, and especially with their high school friends who went off to different schools. Even in this age of cell phones, college students all have computers that they regularly use, and IM is just an easier way of communicating — not to mention that it’s free. Communication has just become so much more efficient than it was in years past. I almost can’t imagine what college would be like when the only available method of instant communication is a single pay phone per floor in a dorm.

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