AzNBaLLaLyKeWhOa. gurlyluv69. Mz2hard2pleaze. sk8tofoodmaxx. Car pOOl Lein.
If you grew up in the 90s, the heyday of the dot-com-boom, when the web was full of AOL, AIM, chat rooms, HTML 2.0, and Webcrawler.com, then the screen name was your jam. It was your online identity, an expression of your creativity (or lack of), and, coupled with your AIM profile, the original social media. Sometimes you’d be surprised to learn your friend’s choice of screen name (“WISHIWERCANADIAN”), or sometimes you’d only know your friends by their screen names (“Who the hell is Brian? Oh, ElectronSi2K.”); these names became synonymous with that person, and the process of choosing, maintaining or moving on from your chosen name was kind of a big deal.
AIM ruled the world, and cultivating your SN and profile was just as important as image-crafting your Facebook and IG profiles now; your choice of words in your screen name, first and foremost, had to be clever, personal or funny. It had to be something your friends would get and associate with you. The levels went deeper than that; if you had numbers, they were usually your birthday or your pager-code initials. YES. PAGER CODE! The lost art. Capitalization was another subtle detail that could change how people looked at you – ‘aznflipside120’ was not nearly as fun looking as ‘aZnFLiPSiDe120’ (yes, that was mine); if your name was formal like ‘NeoIllusions’, it gave off a much more serious vibe.
Then there was the profile and away message, where you had full reign (with a character limit) over what you presented to the world – wild colors, passive aggressive and emo quotes and text, contact info, love and anniversary declarations, links to personal sites, etc. When you went off to college, you’d put your mailing address in your profile since, amazingly, people sent mail back then. While there was a basic HTML limitation to what was allowed, combined with your buddy icon these profiles were the definition of your character to your peers.
While we have probably left these in the past, sometimes they stay with you. In 8th grade I pulled a Kobe and gave myself my own nickname: “dLo”, a simple abbreviation of Dumlao that looked cool. I used that in a screen name, adopted “dLo aZn” in high school, and it went on from there. “dLo GSR” became my main off-AIM handle, to signify my Integra GSR at the time, and it’s stuck with me ever since.
But from those golden days, the screen name is now dead. With the advent and explosion of mobile web, Facebook and Google, our identity is now tied solely to our e-mail address, full name, and phone number. While using Twitter, IG and forums still allow you to choose a handle, Hangouts, iMessage, FB and Whatsapp did away with your customized identity and removed that extra layer of ID for your day-to-day communication. That there was no realization and revolt at the death of this is both a little sad and a little relieving; it signifies perhaps that we’ve grown up past it, or that those customized names we thought were so clever, cool, self-descriptive or just annoying to construct were actually slightly cringe-worthy and probably are better off left in the archives of the past.
I lean towards the “cringe-worthy” reasoning. Just to exemplify this, in the next post I’ll go through the evolution of my screen names from my days as a 4th grader on AOL through my first days of grad school in 2008 when AIM was finally losing its grip on the online chat world to Google Talk.
TL;DR: screen names are dead 🙁