Throwback Thursday: You’ve Got Mail… But Maybe not a Call

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Remember when mobiles were used primarily for calls (and Snake)? Cells evolved, and WhatsApp, Facebook’s $19 billion acquisition, maybe one of the apps drastically changing the mobile world: wireless plans with no talk and/or text, just data. While it sounds limiting, apps like WhatsApp could make the transition pretty seamless.

WhatsApp’s developers take their stance on ads from a downright blasphemes Fight Club quote (give us a break, we’re an ad agency after all): “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy s!@# we don’t need.” (I’m pretty sure the ninth rule of Fight Club is that you can’t take anything Tyler Durden says seriously). At any rate, because WhatsApp doesn’t use advertisements in app, they do charge a small subscription fee; after a year of free service, users can pay $.99 for a one year-subscription, $2.67 for three-years or $3.71 for five-years. With their daily record of 64 billion messages handled in a single day, WhatsApp is a major player.

Far from the first revolutionary communication service unleashed on society in the digital age, WhatsApp adds itself to an impressive new communication lineup. But sometimes it’s good to look backwards, before moving forwards, so this Throwback Thursday, we’ll take a look back at the original revolutionary digital communication mode (from the Millennial perspective, of course).

We Millennials have a knack for romanticizing everything from our childhood, especially the earlier days of the Internet—as if we spent our youth exploring and settling the new digital frontier (see what I mean?). When AOL Gold Disk was the threshold to the World Wide Web, we felt like Alice from Disney’s Adventures in Wonderland escaping to a different world to meet our friends. A world we chose to enter and exit as we pleased (more accurately, as long as the phone lines weren’t tied up and we had parental permission to use the Internet). While AOL isn’t quite the powerhouse it used to be, the service was king for Millennials in the late 1990s up until the mid 2000s, not because of email, but AOL Instant Messenger: the game changer.

Think, would we really have WhatsApp if we didn’t first have Wassup?

 

 

 

Through AIM, Millennials helped transfer countless acronyms and abbreviations into widespread circulation: LOL, BRB and G2G (among others). While Millennials changed the language, AIM changed the mode and frequency. Why call one friend to talk when you could chat with several friends (either in several separate conversations, one mass conversation or both)? Sure, this has probably damaged our communication skills in multiple ways, but alter might be more appropriate.

While no two services are quite the same, SMS text messages, Facebook Messenger, WeChat , WhatsApp and countless other communication modes used by Millennials and every other generation have a lineage tied to AIM. While most of the apps are improvements, AIM does have some upshots compared to even today’s communication service. Although texts are far more convenient, there’s always that horrifying moment when you’re stuck in a group text with no way to escape. Asking your dear friends to start another mass text without including you is not a surefire exit strategy; but, back in the AIM days, a simple press of a button followed by a nonthreatening digital door close relieved you from a conversation—and then you were free, like Alice coming back from Wonderland through the mirror. Alas, escaping our cyberspaces is no longer that easy.

Aside from the language and the mode, AOL and AIM also altered the way people interacted with pop culture. People began chatting with friends while watching TV (prelude to real time Tweets), and celebrities began publishing emails where fans could contact them. (Check out the MTV News clip below featuring L7’s Jennifer Finch discussing the Internet).

 

 

“That’s the sound of the future…” Maybe in 1994, but now the dial tone is the sound of the past, and maybe phone calls as we know them will be, too. FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp certainly give us something to think about, yet so much of our communication behavior learned on AOL has carried over into the modern digital world. Future communication changes and evolutions may only be further reflections of that. Perhaps if you want to create the next multibillion dollar app, you need to only look back.

Cover Photo Source: AOL, Inc via Wikimedia Commons

Cassandra is a Content Manager and Developer at SJG. She earned her BA from Fontbonne University in 2011. Outside the office, she enjoys an active, healthy and well-rounded lifestyle including reading, writing, running, golfing, watching films, listening to music, taking photographs, and consuming media and social media.