My internet baptism came in the form of Yahoo! Messenger, a program whose memory visits me every three months like clockwork. I was dunked into a pool of emoticons and Audibles, a pantheon of lesser gods from which I never backslid. Y!M shut down in 2018. Did I feel part of my soul die when it did? No, just recurring nostalgia for a program that began my first foray into an eventual hellscape, and for a time when being offline wasn’t so baffling a concept.
It’s fair to say that, during the time Yahoo! Messenger existed, online boundaries didn’t feel so much like a need but instead a consequence of the facilities that were available to us. With our prepaid dial-up internet speeds hitting 15mbps on a good day, and our clunky family desktop computer whining into the night, we could only be online so much without the activity becoming a disruption. The urge to break down a wall when someone raised the landline (The Landline) and automatically disconnected you is a type of rage plucked from the early 2000s. Zoom fatigue? We did not know her.
Consider the sound and analysis of a 33.6kbit/s dial-up modem over traditional telephone lines. pic.twitter.com/Nm6VDaBasY— Brian Roemmele (@BrianRoemmele) November 22, 2020
Our relationship with the internet has changed because of so many external factors. Apps are determined to make you dependent on them. Internet speed is (allegedly) faster. We live in a world where everything is so desperate to catch your attention, that corporations talk in memes like they want you to believe that they too, before growing into behemoth capitalist machines, watched Spongebob. Hilarious!
Communication, nowadays (hello, quarantine) is done largely online. Our friends are contacted through Telegram, our work via Gmail and Slack, our hangouts done on Discord or Facebook Messenger video calls.
Twitter has Fleets now, god in heaven. Pray for my soul because I can’t stop scrolling on TikTok. Over the weekend my phone notified me that my screen time was down by 15% (amazing) only to then tell me I averaged 11 hours and 7 minutes a day in the past week. No one’s ever truly offline. Maybe that’s why we’re a little unhinged.
Yahoo! Messenger allowed us to be ‘Idle’ and in a state of ‘Do Not Disturb’. There was a reverence for such statuses that today are merely taken as suggestions. Now, you aren’t offline; you are only ever just on the verge of going back online. Idle has no place in a world that pulls down on Twitter timelines the way someone would a lever at a casino slot machine. We’re all so constantly stimulated that we have to take breaks from consuming content we actually like. I remember feeling visibly confused when I first entered Facebook in 2009, realizing that Idle and Do Not Disturb weren’t options that would show up as a status.
To call the early 2000s a simpler time feels a bit stale, but what I can say is that back then, the promise of logging on was less anxiety inducing as it is now. We weren’t constantly dodging being online, nor were we snorting it obsessively. There was a feeling of balance, unaware that the internet was something we had to ration eventually to stay sane. It was probably close to the euphoric way Meg Ryan sing-songed, “You’ve. Got. Mail,” the Cranberries “Dreams” slowly filtering into the background.
The amount of clicks now needed to mimic Yahoo! Messenger’s “Invisible” (“Invi,” as we young, hip internet pre-teens used to say) on our social media is frustrating. An action that used to require just two clicks now involves several visits to settings tabs, with some places like Facebook asking you to switch your status to offline on ALL your devices to register as Invisible. It’s true that we have the option to just switch off, delete the apps and call it a day. But I am a moth, and the internet is the flame. I will die here out of my own volition.
Notifications were good! Not even Yahoo! Messenger’s jarring “BUZZ!” feature could elicit the same recoil as a simple message notification in this present day. BUZZ too felt sacred, a disruption saved only for your closest friends. Perhaps it’s that fact that elicits my Pavlovian response of, “Oh! A friend!” whenever my computer windows shook violently and with much determination after being BUZZED. And how many times can we say the same of smooth animation of banner notifications?
Online movement felt slower too. We used to memorize keystrokes for emoticons (both secret and not), typing them out to avoid scrolling through a library of yellow circles. Our statuses lingered and weren’t buried within a wall of other statuses. You could be in an Owl City ‘Vanilla Twilight’, “cause the spaces between my fingers are right where yours fit perfectly,” state of mind of weeks (or until your crush finally notices). The rush to reply came innately and felt like a personal choice during the blissful absence of read receipts. With no concept of the “Seen” function, we could take our sweet time and enjoy the social side of social media.
Image via Digital Inspiration
We’re a generation that went from sporadic online meanderings to assuring our colleagues and friends that “I’m on LTE. I can still reply any time,” all the damn time. Some days, our rising screen times feels like that story of the frog that died because it couldn’t detect the change in temperature. Listen, I’m not pulling a, “KAKA-COMPUTER MO ‘YAN,” declaration. I cannot begin to tell you how many miles I scroll through in a day when on Twitter (and TikTok). It feels next to impossible to be offline in our current circumstance where the internet is so intermeshed with our DNA that we enunciate, “lmao” in normal conversation. Maybe it’s time we bring back the reverence we had for online boundaries, or at least aim not to be that anxiety inducing notification on someone else’s device. Yahoo! Messenger may be gone along with the welcome slowness of the 2000s internet, but it doesn’t mean the concept of Offline should go extinct with them.
Header art by Thea Torres
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