Like many in my whacky generation, a large portion of my teenage socialising was done over the internet. One service in particular defined that experience more than any other, even before the term “social network” was widespread, and that was MSN Messenger.
Microsoft’s announcement to shut down the instant messaging service on March 15, and replace it with Skype, got me thinking about how important a social network can become in your informative years.
In the mid-2000s, MSN was a necessary piece of equipment for traversing the complicated social topography that was high school. Much like Facebook now, those without it didn't know what was happening, where it was happening, or who it was happening to. Cellphones were slowly dribbling in, but I only got my first one at the age of 16 and could barely afford to use it during the weekdays until I was in university (free weekend txts anyone?).
As a socially awkward kid, the platform let me talk to others in a way that lessened the teenage anxiety preventing me from doing so in real life. Online I was charming, debonair, and able to block people who didn’t think I was either.
I quickly assembled a group of people who I would chat to after school. My parents would ask who I was talking to, and I could genuinely reply “friends”. To this day I've kept in touch with this cohort, albeit mostly on other social networks.
MSN was where I first fell in love, and first had my heart broken. Hayley Smith had a way with emoticons that just made my insides flutter.
MSN was where school scandals began, and where they ended. All those unimportant things that seemed so important at the time had a place on Messenger.
These experiences gave me the confidence to approach people in real life and create important bonds outside of the digital world, for which I'll always be thankful.
I imagine others have had similar experiences on different social networks. MSN was popular in New Zealand and Australia, but Yahoo and AIM were the staple networks in The States and Asia. My nephew and niece’s generation will likely feel the same way about Facebook, Twitter, and if they’re real outcasts, Google+. Maybe at the end of the 90s there were people reminiscing about the demise of snail mail for keeping in touch with penpals, and who wrote entries in their diaries identical to my blog post today.
So it’s with both sadness and happy nostalgia that I say farewell to MSN Messenger, and close an important chapter in my life. I realise it's a very first world thing to do, farewelling a digital entity, but to me and many others it was all too real.