Students ‘AIM’ to control instant messaging

Dave Yochum

Trevor Williams, sophomore architecture major, still has time to IM his friends while working on a class project. Williams’ buddy list has over 100 buddies.

Credit: Jason Hall

It’s the number one student addiction on college campuses, and no amount of counseling will ever get students to stop using it.

As anyone with a computer and time to spare can tell you, AOL Instant Messenger is a severe, life-altering addiction embraced by compulsive users from dorm rooms to apartment dwellings.

America Online’s free one-on-one Internet chat service has a strong hold on the voices of college students throughout the country, and Kent State is just one of many schools where using AOL Instant Messenger for communication is more popular than picking up the phone.

“AIM saves my daytime minutes,” justified AIM user and sophomore theater major Jaquita Johnson said. “If AIM didn’t exist, I probably wouldn’t keep in touch with a lot of my friends.”

To those not familiar with AIM, it is much more than a means of communication for the 45 million registered users in the United States; AIM is a way of life.

Relationships begin and end through Instant Messenger, users are “stalked” by people who view their profiles and away messages (short descriptions of each registered user and their current activities), meals are arranged through AIM, computers are wiped out by viruses transmitted through AIM, and advertisers pay big bucks to use AIM as a means of promoting their products.

In the technological age, AIM is the virtual Al’s Diner from “Happy Days” – a one-stop shop for food, relationships, fights, storytelling, meeting friends and good times.

“Girlfriends always find out about things they’re not supposed to and send stuff to other girls on AIM – it’s actually all pretty weak,” Kent State user Stu Smith complained. For this freshman physical education major, AIM is everything from a regular conversation tool to a daily dinner or date arranger, but he explained how a simple AIM profile can speak louder than any typed words in conversation.

“A profile is the only thing for people to know you by,” Smith said. “If a profile is blank then maybe the person is shy or they don’t want people to know anything about them.”

Freshman communication major Ashley Dill agreed with Smith.

Dill admitted, “AIM profiles are pretty important. If someone had a blank profile I wouldn’t want to talk with them.”

However, sophomore architecture major Trevor Williams said if a profile is too full, it could be a negative thing for AIM users.

“If the profile is complex and in-depth, then it shows they have lots of time on their hands,” he said.

Williams, who has had both positive and negative experiences with AIM, said Instant Messenger can sometimes make communication harder than if it was simply two people talking.

“It’s a lot harder to carry on a serious conversation because people take things the wrong way when you’re chatting – there’s no way to tell emotion.”

Chatting on AIM rather than talking in-person or on the phone also got Williams in trouble at home.

“Back when I was living at home, I was talking online, and my mom was behind me when I was saying some things I really shouldn’t have. That kind of sucked.”

Williams might be just another AIM user, but he said he doesn’t need the program that much. Compared to many other obsessive AIM users, Williams maintains he will never pay for using AOL’s communication service if they decide to start charging their customers, while others on campus would pay as much as $20 a month to chat online.

Luckily, as AOL representative Krista Thomas explained, America Online wants to keep Instant Messenger free of charge for its users, despite contrary rumors.

“The rumor of AOL charging its users for Instant Messenger is like an urban legend; we’re committed to keeping the service free of charge,” Thomas said. “Users can pay for additional services and applications to improve their instant messaging experience, but it has been a free service to the public since 1997 and will continue to be free.”

To help maintain its popularity among addicts, AOL has just released a new AIM service called AIM Triton that adds features like mobile text messaging, voice calling and streaming video services to AIM.

The new AIM Triton also upgrades the current versions of AIM by allowing a user’s “buddy list” to hold up to 500 buddies. An “IM Catcher” feature has been added that screens instant messages from unknown senders and helps stop the spread of Spam and viruses.

An “IM Catcher” feature might be helpful to many, except it’s too late for those at Kent State who have already gotten a virus from AIM, like aforementioned Stu Smith. Smith lost use of his computer to a virus spread through AOL’s vulnerable Instant Messenger.

ResNet, Kent State’s computer help-desk, offers removal of the AIM viruses sent through links on Instant Messenger for free, but only if a student’s McAfee virus protection has been updated within the past week. If the computer has not had its anti-virus software updated recently, ResNet charges $40 for removal of the AIM annoyances resulting from viruses, like pop-ups and unintentional instant messages being sent to friends on a user’s buddy list.

Matt Linn of ResNet said that although the AIM viruses are bothersome, they shouldn’t do too much harm to an infected computer.

“AOL Instant Messenger isn’t very secure and that’s why people get random links full of viruses,” said Linn. “The viruses are more like spyware pop-ups, and we have a program offered on the ResNet website ( that can be downloaded to help prevent AIM infections.”

Annoying or not, AIM addicts continue to log on to the world’s largest gossip column at all costs to compulsively check profiles, away messages, links and do whatever is necessary to avoid using the phone or talking in person.

After all, what good is being part of the communication revolution when it’s not even necessary to talk?

Contact features correspondent Dave Yochum at [email protected].