I Miss You, AIM: The Top 8 Tech Programs I Once Couldn't Live Without

This weekend I was excited to receive a message from my former thesis advisor at Cornell, congratulating me on ON THE LINE and reminding me of my first publication that we published together when I was a senior, The Construction of Away Messages: A Speech Act Analysis.  

After looking up the article and reminiscing about all those lost days spent interviewing my peers – and later monitoring their AIM away messages for my study – I got to thinking about three things. First, how cool it was that I went to a college where writing a senior thesis on instant messaging was encouraged. Second, how much I once LOVED AOL Instant Messenger. And third, what happened to all those other tech programs I once loved?

After a brief analysis, I created my list of the Top Seven Tech Programs I Used to Love but Somehow Learned to Live Without.

So take note, Instagram. Because what’s cool today is often gone tomorrow, banished to the world of Page 103 search results and invalid URLs. And left only to live on in the memories of fans who still remember the moment when you were so cool.

8. Space Invaders

Love the original graphics.Originally an arcade game, Space Invaders entered my life sometime before my tenth birthday. My grandfather, who was always on the cutting edge of technology, had one of the first Macs from the ‘80s, which came preloaded with Space Invaders. The game consisted of white monsters, set against a screen of black. The goal? Kill the monsters and win the day. My little brother and I were obsessed, and would fight each other for a turn to play. He usually won the fight for the first game. But I still remember the countless visits with us perched over that tiny black screen in that wood-paneled office, listening to the whirring air conditioner and cheering every time we shot a space monster. Good memories, that remind me of my Pop, who I still miss every day.

Fun Factor:  9 out of 10 space monsters

Current Status: Downloadable as a “nostalgia” game. New color graphics don’t hold a candle to the original black and white.


7. Super Nintendo and Super Mario World

Yoshi was always my favorite.Growing up, our parents were very big into us spending time outdoors. Overall, this was positive, as I learned to climb trees, hike, fish and do a lot of things many girls don’t always do. However, this love of the outdoors also resulted in a ban from all early gaming systems, from Atari to Nintendo. Yet all this changed around my tenth birthday when my brother convinced my parents to invest in the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Super Mario World game it came with. Immediately, we both were hooked. And while we still devoted plenty of time to catching salamanders and running around the backyard, we quickly became experts at finding coins, uncovering toadstools and singing that classic tune.

Fun Factor: 8 out of 10. Loss of one point for the rug burns my knees sustained from sitting on the floor, way too close to the TV

Current Status: Our Super Nintendo lives in my parent’s attic, and probably still works if you plug it in. Others are available on eBay, while games are now downloadable in almost any form. Mario lives on!


6. Harvard Graphics

Presentations Before PowerPoint.Back before there was PowerPoint there was – drumroll – Harvard Graphics. A standard player in the professional office software pack we got with our first Personal Computer, this program could create charts, manipulate fonts and help snazz up even the most mundane of elementary school projects. Needless to say, it was the first place I turned for that Sixth Grade stock market project, Eighth Grade invention convention project, and hundreds of other assignments along the way. Sadly, I lost touch with this program when our new computer came with PowerPoint, but I always remembered it, just the same.

Fun Factor: 8 out of 10. It made homework fun. What’s better than that?

Current Status: Discontinued. My heart actually sunk a little upon reading those words.


5. Oregon Trail

I always died fording the river.Covered wagons! Diphtheria! Fording the Mississippi River! Oregon Trail was the game that had it all. It was a favorite of computer class and a constant source of entertainment, long after our elementary days were over. Is it any surprise it’s still around today?

Fun Factor: 8 out of 10. Always a favorite, but I didn’t have it at home, making full mastery impossible

Current Status: Still kicking, though those new graphics make me do a double-take every time.


4. Odell Lake

I miss Odell Lake!This computer game was THE game of my childhood, and uh, teen years as well. It was all fish, all the time. You’d start as a tiny fish and fight to stay alive and grow into a bigger fish by avoiding the predators and finding a lasting food supply. After being introduced to this game in computer class at school, I became obsessed. As an avid fisher girl, can you blame me? After mastering Odell Lake, I moved onto Odell Lake Down Under. This suped up version was set in the Barrier Reef and featured fish from the ocean! It even included a feature where you could create your own fish. Needless to say, I was hooked. :)

Fun Factor: 10 out of 10. I bought the sequel, didn’t I?

Current Status: Unknown. No official site found.


3. Dial-Up Internet

The original internet.Yes, as in internet that ran through the phone line. I have to admit, my parents were early adopters of the cable version, so I didn’t have to suffer for long. But I do remember spending minute after agonizing minute waiting for AOL to load. And then being dazzled each time by all that information that lay before me, gleaming like treasure boxes, just waiting to be opened. From chat rooms to news articles and search engines, the original AOL had it all. And it made the world feel that much smaller.

Fun Factor: 10 out of 10. I mean, it was the INTERNET. My life changed with that first log on. How many products can I say that about??

Current Status: AOL still exists, as does dial-up. Though seeing as most of my data comes from cell towers and satellites, it’s hard to imagine I once needed to plug a desktop PC into a phone.


2. Napster

Ah, the music service that introduced me to real music. Before Napster, my cd collection consisted primarily of whatever I heard on the radio. Sheryl Crow. Hootie and the Blowfish. The Dave Matthews Band. Once Napster entered the picture, my horizons were free to expand to the edges of musical genres. From rap to reggae to classic rock, I tried them all, developing the same odd tastes that I carry around today (progression – from bubblegum pop to classic rock to southern classic rock all the way to country, my fav). In high school, countless nights were lost to downloading and listening to music, usually with my brother. Together, we would assemble playlists, burn them to CDs and then make fancy labels using our very high-tech label machine. Later, I’d drive him and his friends around with our creations blasting, proud to be free from the shackles of radio.

Fun Factor: 9 out of 10. Only annoyance was converting those mp3s to WAV files took so friggin’ long!

Current Status: Napster still exists, but the free music is gone. A necessary change, but a sad one. Not because songs now cost money, but because in the interim I became an iTunes convert. 


1.  AOL Instant Messenger

The original social media.Because it would be wrong of me to end this list any other way. Throughout high school and college, I used to wonder if I would ever stop logging into my AIM account (sadly, yes) and if it was possible to function in a world without constant text-to-text communication (not surprisingly, no). During those years, AIM meant everything. Hours were lost to chatting with friends, checking away messages, creating profiles, and then analyzing how many responses each profile generated. An equal amount of time disappeared analyzing the profiles of everyone on my IM list, from that friend I was fighting with, to that cute guy in college living down the street (yes, I’m talking about my now-husband). And while after college I, like most others, moved onto GChat and Facebook’s new status profile feature, I have to say, I think this is the technology I miss the most. Today, learning about somebody is so easy. From Pinterest to Twitter to Facebook, you always know what’s on someone’s mind. Back then, extracting this information took real skill, time and effort. Which is why I will always remember my trackee4evr screen name fondly. And wonder what this next generation will do with their information overload.

Fun Factor: 9 out of 10, but only because I’m averaging in all those years before the invisibility feature.

Current Status: Appears to still be available, but between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, who can really balance another account?


So, that wraps up my little trip down hard drives of years' past. What technologies do you miss the most? What great gems have I missed?


Jackie Bardenwerperfun