Katz told me AIM “was a way we learned to enact pleasure or demonstrate that we were feeling pleasure, even and especially if we weren’t.” At the same time we were using AIM, my best friends and I were also listening to NSync.
We were fans, but we made fun of one song: “Digital Get Down.” We thought it was “awkward” how NSync made a song about asking some girl to touch herself on a webcam.
Today, such requests seem tame compared to the sort of sexual coercion marking Harvey Weinstein and other sexual harassers.
Exploiting yourself on the quest for attention was one risk with AIM.
My friends and I played sexy on AIM because, in real life, we were bound to the rules of our parents, Catholicism, and the code that tells “smart kids” that sexual experimentation is for screw-ups.
We lied and pretended we got drunk, laughing at our crafty misspellings. Still, the risks of AIM were some of its greatest rewards, especially for teenage girls.
Katz credits AIM as helping shape their own gender expression today. The technology was new, but it wasn’t that different from what adolescents have been doing for ages. “I think it helped young women feel like they could come into their own in a lot of ways,” Moss says. In class, I was the person with the right answer — or the person constantly competing with the other smart kid who said it first.
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Marla M12 was instant-messaging me a guide to phone sex: “Practice saying things like, ‘You make me so hot’ …
the basics can be extraordinarily arousing when they’re said out of context or in a different situation.” For women like me who were teens and preteens in the late 1990s and early 2000s, that “different situation” was AIM (AOL Instant Messenger).
“Teens used the service to flirt through text, engaging in a form of written flirtation that looked a lot more like letter-writing practices decades before,” says Danah Boyd, author of “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.” That written flirtation allowed young women to construct their identities as carefully as their away messages. But online, my friends and I who fashioned ourselves as budding intellectuals who didn’t need to always talk like characters in a Woody Allen movie.