Saying goodbye to Yahoo Messenger

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Once the central hub of cyberspace, Yahoo Messenger slowly disappeared from the internet zeitgeist, leaving in its wake a culture of human interaction that raised an entire generation. Illustration by FIEL ESTRELLA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — If the general internet population is to be believed, true embarrassment does lie within your first email address.

Mine was gaby_bindi_gloria, created for the sole purpose of getting on the Yahoo Messenger (YM) bandwagon. My first Yahoo ID wasn’t too embarrassing, but it’s still admittedly out of place in today’s world of regular usernames on Facebook Messenger and Viber.

The story of how I got it isn’t particularly spectacular — I was 10, in the fifth grade, and I was the only one in my class who didn’t have a Yahoo ID or Friendster account. Unable to understand why I didn’t have either, my friend Iya went ahead and signed me up. She told me about it in school the next day, handing me a piece of paper with my username and password scrawled onto it. I thought she was messing with me at first, so when I got home to test it out, I was half expecting it not to work.

After booting up our ancient Windows 95 desktop, I opened the program’s purple and white interface and typed in the details she gave me: gaby_bindi_gloria@yahoo.com, and an equally embarrassing password that I can no longer remember. Lo and behold, the sad grey emoticon awoke from its slumber to transform into a smiling, bouncy yellow one, and within a couple of minutes (remember that this was the age of dial-up internet), I was christened into the world of social networking.

I’d patiently wait for the familiar purple and white notification to pop up on the lower right of my screen to signal that a friend (or crush) had just gone online.

I now cringe upon seeing my past username, mainly because of the one too many underscores — 10-year-old me thought those were revolutionary — and because the “bindi” can be attributed to Bindi Irwin, the daughter of the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, whom I was a big fan of as a kid. 

YM usernames were the precursors to early Twitter handles. Users had the power to choose any combination of letters and characters to tack to the beginning of @yahoo.com address — a liberty abused by many elementary kids with English keyboards. While some of my friends used the relatively normal first name and last name combination, there were also the outliers, ranging from the bearable yet self-aware maia_is_so_cool, to the status-symbol identifier princessruthbea, and the peak fangirl selicious_lenagomez.

Using my online persona to converse with friends quickly became a ritual. I’d park myself in front of our family computer after school, sign in, and patiently wait for the familiar purple and white notification to pop up on the lower right of my screen to signal that a friend (or crush) had just gone online. In the early days, we’d chat about random things and mess around with the many interactive functions of YM. I still remember sending Happy Tree Friends audibles and asking for math homework help using the Doodle board. “What’s your YM?” was the equivalent of today’s “What’s your Snap?” 

I still remember sending Happy Tree Friends audibles and asking for math homework help using the Doodle board. “What’s your YM?” was the equivalent of today’s “What’s your Snap?”

 

Yahoo has been the butt of jokes recently because of its inability to keep up with the times, even after buying the highly popular microblogging platform Tumblr (see: Steve Buscemi’s “How do you do, fellow kids?” GIF with the Yahoo logo superimposed onto his face). So when the company announced that it would be taking down the classic version of YM to focus its efforts on the new version, friends on my feed shared the news with tear emojis and short nostalgic statements. We were all saddened by the news, but we were only affected up to the level of nostalgia. Our lives would keep on going regardless of whether YM stayed the same or not.

I’m not completely sure when I stopped using YM. Probably sometime after Facebook introduced the chat function and before I became permanently glued to my phone screen.

After hearing the news, I signed in to Yahoo using my old email address just for the heck of it. Not even struggling to remember the password (it was totalgirl, after my favorite magazine back in 2007), I logged in prepared to cringe at the sight of old emails and chats. None of my contacts were online, as expected, but I was surprised when I couldn’t access any of my old IMs from further back than 2011.

I don’t know if it was the nature of the internet back then compared to today’s 24/7 accessibility, but people sure seemed more polite. Nowadays, conversations are never-ending threads.

 

The limitation spared me from unnecessary secondhand embarrassment, but it also helped me realize that as technology improves, so do our attitudes and behaviors. I practically grew up with YM.

Some of the online social skills I carry today find their roots in YM. While I’ve left many of them behind (like saying goodbye after chatting and waiting for someone to go online before sending a message), I still sometimes find myself opening conversations with the traditional “hi!” (complete with a smiley face) and eagerly waiting for certain names to pop up under my Facebook Messenger’s “active” portion. YM is also the reason that I still type out my emoticons, always opting to use the double parentheses laughing face :)) and the colon ‘D’ wide smile :D instead of looking for the corresponding emoji.

It struck me that the younger ones will never know the burden of having to actually wait for her friends to go online, or having to use internet speak because it was more convenient, and not because it’s cool.

I don’t know if it was the nature of the internet back then compared to today’s 24/7 accessibility, but people sure seemed more polite. Through the YM status function, you could say whatever was on your mind à la tweeting, and the click of a button was all it took to activate the “Do Not Disturb” function and let others know you were too busy to chat. Nowadays, conversations are never-ending threads — it’s universally understood that if the other person doesn’t answer right away, he or she eventually will.

My 11-year-old cousin made an Instagram account last year. Her original username was puplover_2004, but she recently changed it to puplover_arig to reflect her love for Ariana Grande. The use of underscores and celebrity initials in it made me recall the formula for our old Yahoo IDs, and it struck me that she’ll never know the burden of having to actually wait for her friends to go online, or having to use internet speak because it was more convenient, and not because it’s cool.

Since technology is evolving so fast, we don’t know when Facebook and Instagram could be rendered obsolete. Like me, my cousin will probably cringe when she remembers her first few usernames as she goes on using a shiny new messenger service sometime in the future.

When that time comes, we’ll spend another day reminiscing about how much we hated being “seenzoned,” or how we used to think that Pusheen stickers were the cutest. But for now, take this as an official goodbye to the YM that raised my generation. We know you’ve g2g, but we’ll also never 4get.