When AIM Was Our Facebook

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Adrian Covert and Sam Biddle make a great case at Gizmodo that AOL Instant Messenger served as a Facebook-like social network for those of a particular age. "There was a stretch of time in the '90s and early '00s when AOL was a social requisite," they write. "This was short lived, of course, but the AOL name remained powerful, and the screennames we accumulated from it stuck with us. AOL was a bloated horror creature of the Internet -- but AIM was graceful, and because of the former's monopoly on the web, the seed was planted widely. Everyone had an AIM handle."

I, too, was part of the AIM generation.  AIM didn't feel like "the Internet," which smelled nerdy even to those of us who loved it. Because everyone was on AIM, it couldn't be stigmatized or othered, even if you accessed it through the Internet and it was clearly a direction where the whole, not-quite-social Internet was heading.

"And when we all finally got broadband, it was always on. Your friends were always right there on your buddy list, around the clock," Covert and Biddle say. "This was the first time that it felt like we had presences online -- that our friends were out there in some sense, and easily accessible."

Without trying to, we'd slipped into the always-on world and many of us have never and will never emerge from it.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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