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What type are you?

Katie Perry | Friday, March 4, 2005

I am away from the computer right now. Unambiguous, straightforward and direct.

This was America Online’s intent when creating the now-turned phenomenon of the away message. What was originally invented to serve the simple function of indicating when an AIM user was not physically at his or her computer has evolved into avenue of idiosyncratic expression, an instant indicator of personality and “type.”

Consider for example, the I-am-far-too-busy-and-important-to-put-up-an-away-message AIM user. Seeking to demonstrate their lazy or preoccupied state of being, these users will “fade away” for tediously long amounts of time. But while they hide behind their “too cool for the computer” façade, we all know they are secretly in their dorm rooms, carefully evading the mental force field that prevents them from touching their mouse and/or keyboard. For days the standoff continues until a breaking point is reached. Furiously, they work down their buddy lists, checking away message after away message, profile after profile, before propagating the cycle and drifting off into a world of light grey once again.

And let’s not forget the compulsive away message changer. Movie quotes, inside jokes, song lyrics – these are all fair game for this fanatical user. Living their lives in profound irony, these users waste hours at the computer relaying to people why they are not at the computer. Feeding the greatest fantasies of his necessary counterpart, the compulsive away message checker, the compulsive away message changer is a prolific artist, and the “create new away message” pop-up box is his never-ending canvas. Tragically, however, his works are ephemeral and quickly lost in the endless abyss of a buddy list.

Finally, the most inventive of all users are those who pride themselves in the unambiguous-but-still-ambiguous away messages. Clearly there is a motivation behind their hazy words, yet when confronted they will always take the path of denial. Through their sappy lyrics, commanding quotations and revealing emoticons, these users suffer from an inability to communicate by normal means, leaving their audience to guess, “Was that about me?” Of course the answer to this question is always the same. Yes, yes it was.

So the next time you put up an away message, think long and hard and ask yourself: is this the type of person I want to be? The choice is yours.

I am away from this column right now.