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Chatting online was our “out of context,” because interacting fact-to-face meant awkward, eyes-on-the-floor self-consciousness that defined middle or high school. You could “…” through an awkward silence; draft messages in consultation with your BFF; study your chipped nail polish instead of looking straight into the eyes of the person you hoped “like-liked” you. You could sign off with “ciao” one day, “peace out” the next.You could pretend to be a grown-up, because you were at a computer and not surrounded by lockers and classrooms. But when you’re an adolescent, talking is a way to flirt and flirting is a way to figure out who you are. Did you identify more closely with the lyrics of Dashboard Confessional or the writings of F. “Having the Internet as a catalyst for learning how to interact with your peers was invaluable, and it was also pretty innocent,” says Caroline Moss, a co-author of the upcoming “Hey Ladies!As Boyd notes, “AIM came on the scene at the height of the first large moral panic around online sexual predators and so the media and many parents panicked about the service, deeply frustrating teens.” We heard stories of women and girls who got raped or murdered by guys they met in chat rooms, lechery that now seems like prelude to the . “You had middle school students getting brave,” Moss says, “asking one another questions about sex, experimenting with language, acting in ways they knew to be inappropriate for school.” For young women who were told that their pleasure was inappropriate, the opportunity to develop a sexual identity online was invaluable.Our response to these horror stories was to be judgmental. AIM helped us become everything our screen names promised we could be: clever, corny, simultaneously over-the-top and understated expressions of ourselves.Today, we might not need to be secretive about learning how to have phone sex.There seem to be no limits to the sexual explicitness we consume in music and TV and film.A friend of mine reminded me of the way, at sleepovers, we used to go into chat rooms, pretend to be in our 20s, and try to get men to “cyber,” the AIM version of phone sex.

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.

Would I be bold enough to look him in the eyes and say: I like you?

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We talked about our eating disorders with a candor unavailable to us at the lunch table.

When I messaged boys I liked, I learned to have conversations where there was no pressure to arrive at a right answer.

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