You kids don’t understand. You could never understand.
You walk around in habitats of text, pop-up cathedrals of social language whose cornerstone is the rectangle in your pocket. The words and the alert sounds swirl around you and you know how to read them and hear them because our culture—that we made—taught you how. We were the first generation to spend two hours typing at our closest friends instead of finishing our homework, parsing and analyzing and worrying over “u were so funny in class today” or “nah lol youre pretty cool.”
That thing you know how to do, that cerebellum-wracking attentiveness to every character of the text message and what it might mean—we invented that. But when we invented it, we didn’t have text messages, we didn’t have Snapchat, we didn’t have group chats or Instagram DMs or school-provided Gmail accounts. We had AIM. We had AOL Instant Messenger.
“How did AIM work?” you ask. It was like Gchat or iMessage, but you could only do it from a desktop computer. (Since we didn’t have smartphones back then, its desktop-delimited-ness was self-explanatory.) You could set lengthy status messages with animated icons in them. And iconic alert noises played at certain actions: the door-opening squeak when someone logged on, the door-closing click when they logged off, the boodleoop for every new message.