AOL instant messenger allowed me to annoy strangers for entertainment. Sure, prank calling had served the same purpose for decades, but it didn’t provide the same level of anonymity. For someone like me who desired power but feared confrontation, AIM was a real coup. “Rejoice, snivelling rats!” it called. “America is Online.”
If I remember correctly, I would enter one of the generic, default chat rooms. In my mind, they are full of older strangers groping at conversations. I would spam them until they were unusable and everyone left. I think I did this with friends. A raid. I don’t remember our angle of attack. I do have one distinct memory of typing and sending: “How does it feel getting owned by a 12-year-old?” Maybe I wrote “pwned.”
It’s easy to see that behavior through rose-tinted glasses in light of what the internet has wrought in years since. It hardly stands up to what naughtier children have concocted deep in the monitor-glow night. Maybe my experiment in public nuisance was insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but what if it’d been someone I loved getting pwned? The ghosts of messenger services past haunt every new chat window. There are some pages you can’t just refresh.