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Remember Chat Rooms?

I read a great piece about the AOL chat rooms, which are technically still up and running though barely used these days.  It made me nostalgic, not for AOL chat rooms because I never had AOL, but chat rooms in general.

I used to do my homework in college while hanging out in a chat room and talking to other students around the world.  I had a standing date for many months with another student in Ballarat, but other people would join in the conversation; random strangers who dropped in and out.

Everyone was polite in my experience with chat rooms, but that could have just been because the Internet was so new and shiny.  It was so mind-blowing back then that no one wanted to crap on it.


I liked the article because it’s nice to think about little gardening grannies getting together online to talk about azaleas.  I still have a bunch of message boards I frequent around specific topics though it’s different to leave and read messages vs. talk back and forth with someone in real time.

The article made me sad, too, because it felt like walking through the crumbling remains of a once great empire:

There’s a post apocalyptic sense about AOL chatrooms. The abandoned entertainment rooms are about outdated TV shows, celebrities, and movies (think Desperate Housewives, Brangelina, and Twilight). Frequent, longtime users — it seems to mostly be the elderly — who log on to chat about gardening have increasingly been met with trolls who start arguments about President Donald Trump. And yes, there are people — unsure about Tinder — looking for love.

I guess Twitter is the equivalent of today’s chat room.  Or Facebook.  But it’s different because we can curate those feeds vs. expose ourselves to anyone and everyone who stumbles into the same space.  Sure, that is preferred considering how people treat others online, but we’ve lost something, too.

We used to meet new people all the time, and now we’re conversing in echo chambers, culling our friend lists so we don’t have to be annoyed by obnoxious statements.  We can silence people so they continue talking, thinking they’re engaging listeners without knowing that their words aren’t reaching an audience.

And then there are instant messaging apps, which give us conversation in real time with a few drawbacks.  Instead of getting to choose the hours when communication will take place — visiting the room and seeing whose schedule lines up with your own — you’re having people communicate with you when they want to communicate, dropping messages into Slack that pop up on your phone unless you turn off notifications.  In that way, it feels like the phone ringing in my house, letting me know someone else wants to talk, but it’s not necessarily when I have time to talk.

When I first entered the Internet, it made my world feel infinitely larger.  When I think about the Internet now, it feels a lot smaller.  I still meet new people all the time, but I mostly converse with the same people, day after day.  I can’t remember the last time I entered a virtual room, chatted with a bunch of people, and went our separate ways without the strings of a friend request or a follower notification.

Do you still frequent chat rooms?  Do you miss them, too?


1 Nicoleandmaggie { 03.22.17 at 8:41 am }

It is not my recollection that everyone was nice on IRC. There was a lot of, yes you should commit suicide if you’re so depressed, older men trying to sext or even meet with teenage girls (one of my high school roommates and her friends were into those ircs and bulletin boards), and just general “penis penis penis” etc.

Online games and similar worlds also provide a chat room experience.

2 torthuil { 03.22.17 at 11:35 am }

Ha! I was a chat room addict for a while too. Spent hours in them, some days. Everyone was always nice in my recollection, too. I am still in touch with some people I met back then, but it isn’t the same. We all have our own little Facebook “brand” now and even when I don’t want to, I judge people by what they say and share. I don’t mean I think they are bad people but I put them in categories. (And it works both ways I’m sure.) The excitement of meeting and talking with a stranger, finding common ground, forming impressions sight unseen, that’s gone. Of course there are risks to that sort of thing but it was a lot of fun too. Blogs are still a bit that way, however,

3 Chris { 03.22.17 at 2:39 pm }

Oh definitely Mel! I have very fond memories of knowing no matter the hour of the day or night I could pop into a chatroom and find someone to talk to, anonymously. I don’t mean that in a “troll” or negative way I just mean it was freedom. Unencumbered. I wouldn’t necessarily see or speak to them again. For a very uptight, reserved person it was quite freeing. LOL

4 Valery { 03.22.17 at 5:08 pm }

O dear, here I am still living under my partial stone. Never understood chatrooms, still don’t understand Twitter.
I guess I miss the time when my circle of bloggers was active and we had a conversation in each others comment section.

5 Working mom of 2 { 03.23.17 at 2:01 am }

I participated in these in a minor way back in the day but only on a narrow subject. I didn’t have AOL so I don’t think it was AOL chat rooms. I did find that things were much more cordial there than they are on today’s Internet. I for one am a private person so I liked the kind of anonymity there was versus being on Facebook etc. – – which I am not. It’s too bad that trolls these days hide behind anonymity which kind of makes it incompatible with today’s world.

6 Lori Lavender Luz { 03.23.17 at 9:52 am }

Oh, yes, this: “It was so mind-blowing back then that no one wanted to crap on it.” I remember when the Internet felt aMAAAYZing. Like a beautiful and well-groomed park to be well taken care of.

Now it feels like there are so many bad neighborhoods, and scary folks prowling “safe” neighborhoods. I, too, tend to stay on my well-beaten paths.

7 loribeth { 03.24.17 at 8:57 pm }

My Yahoo group had a chat feature & we would schedule occasional chats, but I never quite took to it. It WAS kind of neat to know we were all there at the same time, chatting onscreen as if we were in the same room, but there was so much overlap and I had a hard time typing fast enough to keep up with it all. I much prefer/red message boards where there’s still give & take, but most posts are written with a little more care & thought.

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