A familiar greeting: ‘Welcome, you’ve got mail!’

Laura Welch

What did you do with your time before the Internet became such a pivotal part of life? Stop for a moment and seriously think about how many hours a week you spend online. Chances are the time is a significant amount.

However, there was a time when there was no Internet. If you wanted to do research for a paper, you were forced to open up an actual book. If you wanted to talk to friends, dialing up their numbers was the only way. Oh yes, it is true.

How did the Internet integrate itself into everyday use? Perhaps it was those three little words, “you’ve got mail,” that enticed a generation towards the insatiable desire for information and communication right at their fingertips.

For many, their first experiences online were while communicating with friends via AOL Instant Messenger. Instant Messenger became available to the public in November of 1996, when most current college students were in the fifth to seventh grade.

The allure of a device that allowed multiple conversations to occur without the chance of parents overhearing was especially irresistible to elementary and middle school students.

“You were cool if you had the Internet,” Kathleen Nihill remembers. “It felt like a secret club.”

“You could hide from your parents the amount of time you were talking to your friends, especially boys, which was a big deal when you were younger,” fellow student Kathleen Buckley agrees.

One favorite pastime of the instant messaging craze was the constant creating and exchanging of cool new screen names. During the beginnings of instant messaging, it seemed like people changed screen names like they changed clothes. “I went through a period where I changed my screen name 12 times or more in the sixth grade,” Buckley says.

Others have opted to remain strong and have had only one screen name over all these years.

“My first ever screen name was and always will be injuredboy24,” freshman Brian Davis says. “Back in seventh grade, I dislocated my knee playing baseball so I made a screen name thinking I would use it for a day, and I was just too lazy since to change it.”

You could have a screen name similar to your best friend, one with the initials of your crush, your hair or eye color, but whatever it was, it said something about you.

“My first screen name was chiefs777, because the Chiefs were my favorite sport team,” Lucy Larson says.

Old screen names are not only revealing, but at times quite amusing.

“My first screen name was oldnavygirl411,” one freshman student, who sported some performance fleece vests back in the day, says.

The Internet provides screen names, but the user profile allows for even more freedom. Most profiles contain song lyrics, school names, residence halls or other signs of allegiance. However, in grade school, it seemed profiles were long lists of the names of basically anyone you ever knew.

“If someone you thought you were friends with did not list your name in their profile, it was a big deal,” Kelsey Whalen recalls.

In addition to instant messaging, America Online also offered the opportunity to send and receive mail electronically. Remember signing into America Online hoping you would hear the monotone male voice informing you that you had mail?

“That guy who said ‘You’ve got mail’ was really annoying,” John Dailey says. “I turned him off.”

Fortunately, you can now have anyone from Britney Spears to Austin Powers tell you about your inbox status. “Lindsey Lohan tells me when to read my mail,” Nihill says.

Average college student check their Facebook up to 20 times per day, have an away message up 24/7 and have hundreds of buddies on their buddy lists.

Sometimes it is hard to believe there was a time you could wait hours for just one friend to come online. You wondered how your older sibling got that yellow note next to her name and that message saying “I am away from my computer” to send automatically.

Today, reminisce about your beginning ventures into the online world. Ask your friends what their first screen names or e-mail addresses were. You might just learn something new.