It was 9 o'clock on a Monday night, and I was determined not to get caught. I tip-toed down the hallway avoiding any creaky step. I made the turn into my parents' computer room, sat down in the office chair, took a deep breath. I was about ready to do what all 12-year-old boys do.
Log on to AOL Instant Messenger.
I clicked on the AOL icon and crossed my fingers.
The screen showed three boxes. The furthest to the left had the little yellow running man. The next two boxes were empty. The objective was to get the running man over to the right. And it was no easy task. The word "dialing" popped up and you heard this quick beep-bop-beep-bop-boop sound of someone placing a phone call.
From there, all hell breaks loose. The sound is the combination of someone putting their car keys in a blender mixed with the cries of a kitten down the street.
Come on, come on! Go-go-go-go!
There's no way to turn the dial-up sound down. And it was LOUD. It was not just a risk for my parents to hear, I think people across the border in Canada were saying, "Hey, somebody trying to log on to AIM?"
After about thirty seconds, an amount of time that felt like 30 days, the running man gets to the second box then quickly finishes his journey getting to the third. Dude, where was that late burst of speed at the beginning??
My buddy list pops up. I'm officially online. But it doesn't matter. Mom comes by, "Chris, time to sign off."
Well, back in my day
At some point, every generation starts to say, "You kids don't know how good you have it." And for each generation, the struggle gets a little bit softer.
My grandpa could say, "Kid, I had to fight in World War 2."
My parents could say, "Boy, we never had romaine lettuce."
My generation? "There was no such thing as stealthily logging on to the internet. No privacy of your own phone, own tablet, no, there was a computer room and a dial-up connection."
But it still seemed awesome at the time.
You'd logon, have three, five different text conversations going on all at once. The language was different too, we all had our own tween and teen lingo.
G2G – Got to go
BRB – Be Right Back
OMG – Oh my God (or "oh my gosh" for any of us afraid this acronym would still register as a Lord's name in vain penalty on the weekly sin counter.)
The most confusing was "POS." Parent over shoulder. I never understood this one, like was the rule in that household, "Sweetie, you can go online for 15 minutes, but I will stand behind you like a member of the Secret Service."
There were plenty of other acronyms; some that still show up in text messages today, others that would require a little bit of Wikipedia research.
But the one that needs no introduction at all, the absolute rockstar of the batch was "lol."
The Prime of lol
lol was a dominant force from 1998 to 2003. I'd say one out of every 3.5 messages that went out on AIM had a lol in it. It quickly became a part of American culture and I assume it is even included in the Webster's dictionary.
lol and AIM were linked together like Brady and Belichick or Trump and Twitter. As lol did well, so did AIM, and vice versa. AIM was as popular during its heyday—at least with the under 18 crowd—as Facebook, SnapChat, and Instagram are today.
But, as with anything that gets overused, the value of the lol currency started to plummet. A lol became cheap. Anything from a bad pun to a legitimately hilarious story was met with the same response: "lol."
And that wasn't ok because, realistically, not every joke gets a laugh out loud (just like how we overuse exclamation points.) Some jokes deserve a light chuckle. Some get one of those weird nose breaths. It was a growing problem, and we needed to clarify the level of laugh ("level of laugh" has never gotten over missing out on the prime "LOL" acronym real estate. Same with "Lots of Love" and "Load of Laundry.)
So people started to use capitals (LOL) when a joke deserved more respect. We introduced "Literally Laughing Out Loud" (LLOL) or, the most extreme, "ROFL" as in "Rolling on Floor Laughing." Anytime I got a "ROFL" I was like, thank you, I'm honored, but should I call for help?
It also became hard as a guy to use lol. And I know in 2017 it's dangerous to label anything as Feminine vs. Masculine but, for what it's worth (FWIW), which of these scenes feels less realistic:
- Group of women at a book club, Sheila tells a joke, Amy responds, "LOL that's hilarious."
- Group of men in a coal mine, Steve tells a joke, Al responds, "LOL, now could you pass me the pickaxe?"
As men (insert Tim Allen grunt), we pivoted to the ultra manly "haha" instead. But that didn't really convey a real laugh. Sounded like a robot. Hi. I enjoyed that joke very much. Ha. Haha. Ha. Ha. Ha.
So you'd start to see a few "hahah" get thrown out there, that extra 'h' showing this was a real, genuine, LOL level of laugh.
As text conversations moved away from the computer and onto smartphones, there was new competition: emojis.
Here in 2017, lol's biggest opponent is not another acronym; it's this guy:
Why use words, why use letters when we can use emojis?
On September 12, 2017, Apple was ready to take us one step further.
Why use emojis when you could use an animoji?
I watched Craig Federighi, a Senior Vice President of Engineering at Apple, a dude whose net worth has got to be in the tens of millions, I watched this grown ass man stand on stage and bock like a chicken. He displayed how you could turn your face into a chicken, a dog, or the infamous poop emoji. As I watched this I thought, "Yep. This is the beginning of the end."
Off in the distance, somewhere in the AOL headquarters, I heard someone begin to softly play American Pie on the guitar.
Oh and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in Hell
Could break that iPhone's spell
I don't think it's a coincidence that not even a month after this animoji announcement, AOL threw their hands up in the air—we can't compete with this—and announced that AOL Instant Messenger was officially calling it a career on December 15th, 2017. Retiring after twenty years of service. The little yellow running guy finally had a finish line. He would move on to the fourth box, the internet afterlife, live alongside Myspace and The Hampster Dance.
The American Pie Music Grew Louder in the Background.
It became clear to me what I needed to do. AIM and lol started together, and it's only right for them to end together. So, I have decided, and I still stand by my decision here today, that my final use of lol will be on December 15th, 2017.
Yeah, I know lol will still exist. It will kick around for a few more years, but I want to end it now with dignity; I don't want to see lol struggle like a 40-year-old NBA player trying to run up and down the court against emojis and animojis and whatever comes next. I don't want to see lol go out weak and defeated.
It's time. Lol, you were a valuable part of our childhoods, an integral part of American 21st-century culture. You are as American as apple pie and, dammit, you served us well. But, all things must pass. With a heavy heart I say, lol, it's time to face the music.
I went down to the sacred store
Where I'd heard the dial-tones play before
But the man there said the dial-tones wouldn't play
And in the Tweets the children screamed
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed
But no more AIMs were written
No sounds of that crying kitten
And the two things I admire most
An LOL in an IM post
They caught the last train for the coast
The day, AIM died
And they were singing...
Bye, bye yellow running man guy
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
That running guy was drinking whiskey and rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
Hope you enjoyed this post. On Wednesday, I will be doing a post called "Fifty Shades of Fear" that focuses on all the things that held me back from hitting publish on my first book.
Toilet Bowl is available as one full book on CreateSpace, Amazon.com, or Barnes and Noble. You can also split it up with Book 1: Meet the Godfreys and Book 2: Tour de Bathroom. Ebook and physical books available for all titles.
What's the story about? Check out the book trailer below.
Other stuff - if you are a basketball fan, I have the spinoff site "Medium Rare Basketball." We've got the "Fast Break Lunch Break" podcast and in the early early stages of this kind of bizarre podcast show about the Sacramento Kings. We also just started some college basketball writings and are looking for more volunteer superfans. Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, and Michigan State are taken but if you're a die-hard fan of another university, and can put together a quick 3-4 thoughts/notes/observations on your team's games each week, send me an email. We'll get you started.
Finally, if you'd like to subscribe to this blog via email, just enter your email address in the box below or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for stopping by, see you Monday!