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I found myself asking questions that reminded me of being a teenager, the sort of things you could only ask in the middle of the night, and he always responded candidly. It had been years since I got to know a relative stranger that well.
Recently, I have wondered what would happen if I were to run into this friend in person.
“Do you remember what it felt like for a relative stranger to be like: ‘I see you’? It felt like cartwheeling down a moving walkway, going with the flow and yet still sticking the landing.
But developing a sexual identity was as difficult as choosing a screen name.
Katz told me AIM “was a way we learned to enact pleasure or demonstrate that we were feeling pleasure, even and especially if we weren’t.” At the same time we were using AIM, my best friends and I were also listening to NSync.
We were fans, but we made fun of one song: “Digital Get Down.” We thought it was “awkward” how NSync made a song about asking some girl to touch herself on a webcam.
A friend of mine reminded me of the way, at sleepovers, we used to go into chat rooms, pretend to be in our 20s, and try to get men to “cyber,” the AIM version of phone sex.
Another friend recalled the time a boy we knew from school told us to get drunk while we chatted.
My friends and I played sexy on AIM because, in real life, we were bound to the rules of our parents, Catholicism, and the code that tells “smart kids” that sexual experimentation is for screw-ups.
We lied and pretended we got drunk, laughing at our crafty misspellings. Still, the risks of AIM were some of its greatest rewards, especially for teenage girls.
Today, we might not need to be secretive about learning how to have phone sex.
There seem to be no limits to the sexual explicitness we consume in music and TV and film.
But some things are still hard to do, and maybe they’ll only get harder the more digital intermediaries pop up, giving us alternatives to face-to-face intimacy.