004 // february 8

february 8, 2000

Dear Journal,

(sigh) I am so confused! Noel is sooo shy, but does he like me? Would Matt lie to me? Ahhh Allison’s going out with RD! I’m so happy for her!! I just wish I had a bf. I got online tonight for little bits of time just to see if Noel was on! I wonder if Ryan has AOL…

Well, I’m still kinda sick, so I’m going to bed. TTYS.

february 8, 2022

In 8th grade, my AOL screen name was QTgUrL126. The alternation of capital letters was important branding, and I spent literal hours of my free time sitting at our family’s desktop computer waiting for other kids (see: boys) to sign online and chat with me.

I adopted a more “mature” screen name when I went to college (mollynne, which I thought to be very clever) and chatted with all my new friends on my new Dell laptop. In those days, we stayed signed in to our accounts all day long, but if we had to leave for class or dinner or third dinner, we’d put an away message up. Pre-social media and texting, this was the way we connected with others across campus. We spent our free time sending instant messages.

Like many people in the digital age, I’ve been trying to get a better handle on my technology usage—to break myself of the habits my thumbs have formed and make sure my kids don’t remember me only with a phone in my hand or in front of my face.

The thing I remind myself from time to time, though, is that technology isn’t the problem. Distraction is, and distraction isn’t new. I’ve been practicing it since the late 1900s with the inception of AOL and instant messaging. I practiced it today while I watched a video on my phone while Norah rollerbladed around me in the driveway.

I’ve been thinking about the moments I choose distraction lately—leaning into them so as to figure out what exactly I’m trying to do. I could try to make a case that it’s an attempt to forge some kind of connection, but I think that’s probably a reach (even for 2000 me). Instead, I think it has more to do with avoidance. The thoughts I don’t want to think. The decisions I don’t want to make. The corrections I don’t want to give.

I wasn’t thinking about any of this when I was a 14-year-old (I mean, so much to figure out—Noel was online!), but I think about it now and know the same motivations were probably there then.

When I think about how I want my kids to remember me some day, the word “present” often comes to mind—a goal, it seems, I’ll always have to work toward.

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