1.4.08

"You may be interrupting" On Away Messages and Busy Notices

Of AIM away messages and their precocious GChat descendant, busy notices, I am an over-user. The drop-down list of saved away messages on my AIM account (now seldom used, supplanted by all things GChat) expands, at full length, to about a half-dozen windows. Hundreds of away messages crafted over a decade of sometimes prolific instant messaging. Their contents range from the douchebaggy literary quotation - "TE OCCIDERE POSSUNT SED TE EDERE NON POSSUNT NEFAS EST," (From "Infinite Jest" Translation: "They can kill you, but the legalities of eating you are quite a bit dicier") to the celebratory - "Atlanta Braves back in first! Do the chop, bitch!"

I fear my use of away messages is historically extreme - my ex-girlfriend cited them as a quirk that inspired a desire to choke me with the one's and zero's which constituted the messages. But I don't think my approach to them is unique, which is to say, it's rare to see an away message or busy notice that has anything to do with what is occupying that person's time at the moment. Those kinds of explanatory messages do exist, but more often away messages seem to be perpetually "on" even while the person is at the computer, carrying on multiple online conversations.

There are a couple reasons ChumbyGal8632 has chosen, today, to post an away message - "The beauty of life, is that you don't have to be modernly beautiful to live it." (Ed. Note: So you're saying you're ugly?) - even though her activity notice shows that she is at her computer, probably chatting with a few people.

The utilitarian reason is plausible deniability: ChumbyGal hates talking to MustangMan69 so she leaves the away message up whenever he's online to ignore his incoming IM's ("yo cheeks, whatchu got cookin 2nite??? wanan stop by my pad w/ the lax bro'z 4 sum -ruit?"). Fair play, but for my taste, just ignore the guy. The away message just leaves him with a sliver of hope that you are, in fact, Batwoman and you happen to have been called away from the computer by the bat signal - so try again later.

More prominent, though, than the utilitarian heritage (my generation- the practical is rarely at the root of anything... except vaporizers) is the television commercial. Away messages are our own pithy commercials. The hook-line-and-sinker, should anyone of consequence be listening. Or, as a character in Dana Spiotta's novel "Eat the Document" notes of his late-teen clientele, "...for all their sarcasm and easy, shallow irony, there was still not enough self-reference for him, not enough wit. There was self-obsession, yes, self-conciousness, sure (after all, they always lived as though their lives were all on the verge of broadcast), but no concern with self-implication. Just that ungenerous righteousness, as if merely being young was somehow to your credit."

Our away messages are meta-commercials; commercials about the type of person the consumer culture and advertising has produced delivered in the form of a personally crafted, 5-second-spot advertisement. Perhaps we won't all agree that we've been produced by this culture of ads and irony, but the style we've adopted in our away messages, and the way we use them, certainly takes its cues from that niche of our upbringing. Or, as the Simpson kids put it, "it's just so hard not to listen to TV, Dad: it's spent so much more time raising us than you have."
So I'm going to take it easy on the away messages and, instead, just leave a link to my blog.
Wait, that's even worse...

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