You’ve Got Mail and How AOL Brought Email to, Well… Everyone!

Culture |

Oh, remember the first days of computer use when you had just connected onto the internet, and then a call would come into the phone line, to or from mom or dad!? Or someone would pick up the phone and begin dialing out? Disconnect from the Internet! Aghhhhhhhhh! Complete frustration of those dial-up days with AOL and “You’ve got mail.”


But who can forget the excitement when we heard that modem droning sound, and those incredible words, “You’ve got mail?” “Hearing, “You’ve got mail” was such a thrill at the time! And you had maybe one or two emails? How many unopened emails do you have right now in your mailbox? Guilty as charged! My old AOL account is still open and I have several thousand unopened emails in that account.

In fact, last year, my 30 something teaching partner would practically roll on the ground if she heard my computer yell, “You’ve got mail.” I was just checking it. Hey, I actually use Gmail. And I just keep AOL because I don’t know why. Nostalgia, perhaps?

But in all seriousness, we have to thank AOL for bringing dial-up Internet and email to all of us in the beginning. AOL began officially in 1983 and stormed into our homes shortly in the early 90s. But children of the 80s were the teens of the 90s and you all remember the glorious day when Instant messenger began. They charged for that, remember? And remember how enormous our home computers were? How far we’ve come now from those days now that we all hold our phone/computers in our hands. But we have AOL to thank, and we must pay homage.

AOL originally started as a tech company that sold a game downloading service for the Atari video game console. In 1985, AOL became Quantum Computer services. Quantum then offered an online service named it Q-Link. It launched its first instant messenger program in 1989, and it was then that the famous "you've got mail" line was born. The new name AOL came about in 1991, and the public started getting cd’s in the mail for free internet services. It was then that the fun began!


You could be on the Internet and talk to a friend on instant messenger! And parents didn’t have to listen to the conversation. They only heard the laughter back and forth. And there was plenty of laughter! Abbreviated speaking began and phrases like LOL and brb began a new way of talking to bffs.

Just think back to those first days of AIM. Texting and the iPhone were still years away. This changed how people at the workplace behaved and led to less trips to the water cooler. Just remember some of the fun times of AIM. Those chat boxes, with the crazy usernames, “Imabarbie101” or “favoritepup57?”

Or how about the buddy icons and and the sound of the door slams? And how many times did you have to look up the more complicated Internet abbreviations that are now common when people text routinely. And Buddy Lists. Who can forget checking to see if your favorite buddy is online and available for chat time?

And, teens in the 90s can remember the invitations to “cyber.” Chat rooms were places were people could meet up and talk. Most were well intentioned same-age other teens just having fun. Of course this was before the time of Facebook, Myspace, or any other online social media site.

Every wonderful invention has a darker side. Parents everywhere would have been very concerned had they known their children were being approached online with these “cyber” requests. Very few people at that time suspected child sex offenders in those chat rooms. Most people were too excited about the ability to connect with others in this face-paced age of connection.

But look at the fun we did have. And what a ride it was!  

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Peggy DeSeure


Peggy is an author, freelance writer, teacher, and mom of two beautiful daughters who were born in the 80s. Hence, Peggy loves all things 80s! One of her joys is passing down stories of her favorite movies and fun pictures from the 80s to grandkids. And, there are many talks spent reliving those days with friends and reminiscing about that thrilling decade!