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AIM created “a safe space,” genderqueer writer and performer RE Katz tells me. mostly faking, some experimenting, performance.” That performance — complete with the costume of a font and the character of a username — was an attempt at being clever or sexy, at crafting a self. : The Story of 8 Best Friends, 1 Year, and Way, Way Too Many Emails” and the Twitter account @Your Away Message.

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.

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.It was in those unstructured conversations that I could be typing so fast my guard came down.“It was pleasurable to meet new people and learn that you were ‘attractive’ somehow,” Katz recalls.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.“Teens used the service to flirt through text, engaging in a form of written flirtation that looked a lot more like letter-writing practices decades before,” says Danah Boyd, author of “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.” That written flirtation allowed young women to construct their identities as carefully as their away messages. But online, my friends and I who fashioned ourselves as budding intellectuals who didn’t need to always talk like characters in a Woody Allen movie.