"I need Justin's screenname. Granted, it's been three years
since Justin and I have exchanged anything more than an
awkward greeting while passing each other on Jamestown Road,
but it is imperative that I contact him now. No, I cannot use
any of the many online or human resources at my disposal to
relocate his contact information. He and I must speak
immediately regarding a very pressing issue involving us
both. I really need to share with him a 'You Know You're a
William and Mary Student if...' list, and so-and-so's
livejournal posting mentioned him, and he just has to
receive this mp3 file from this Indie-Gay-Irish-Punk-Rock
band I discovered."
Not gonna happen.
Does Justin even know your last name? Are you completely certain his name is Justin? Was it maybe Johnny or James or Michelle? Drats. And who the hell is SocWM06? Let's gather the facts: expected graduation in 2006, shares your alma mater, and likely studies Sociology. Great! You've narrowed it down to 62 candidates. You may as well stand in Morton Hall with a small sign, hoping to draw the individual out much like a chauffer receives a rider at the airport. You have a few options here.
1. Message the hook. "Hi, I completely forgot who you were or never valued you as a human being enough to recall what your screenname signifies in real life. Could you please remind me?"
SocWM06 has signed off at 10:40:26 PM
It's safe to say that, according to your records, SocWM06 will not be signing back on.
2. Inquire with friends as to who the hook is. Way to be weird, buddy. You'll expose yourself for the addict you (and let's face it, all of your friends) are. Public awareness of your condition will lead to embarassment and you're not yet certain that Mr./Ms. SocWM06 is worth it. For all you know it could be that creepy girl in your morning class that always holds eye contact much longer than is ever proper and makes her sentences ramble on for an average of fifteen seconds each. Too risky.
3. Facebook the hook. Your secret's safe with us. Thanks to blessed internet anonymity and the advanced facebook engine, you can proceed to input your clues and scroll through the dozens of returns to cross-reference the screenname. Time-consuming, but she/he will never know you even researched her/him. Good for Sociology majors, but a dead end for grad students, Math Majors or people whose lives have meaning and legitimate social outlets. Always give this one a shot before proceeding to scenario four, but be certain to minimize the window should anyone else enter the room.
4. Delete the hook. Be realistic. It may be Justin, it may be the real-life Fat Mouse, it may be a cyberstalker who creates misleading identites to lure out young adults for supposed sexual encounters ending in death and dismemberment. It's safe to say that this screenname will do you no good. All you can do is follow the away messages posted, click on the various links to appear in its profile, and take note of any structural changes to the screenname itself. Are we adding a capital letter or an extra space today? Better keep that name saved so you can find out!
We collect these identities like butterflies, saving them for no function whatsoever beyond aesthetics. A long buddy list with an exceptionally slim scroll-down button pleases the eye and feeds the ego. Yes, you may be alone on a Friday night because you were stood up by a friend, but at least you have 143 people you could, in theory, message. That means 143 different away messages describing all the fun you're not currently having, or all the social events you can awkwardly crash, with everyone knowing you only found out because stupid Justin leaked information to you through instant messenger. Face it: no matter what your motives are in storing every screenname you encounter indefinitely, they do you little good in reality if you don't actually have them for the intended purpose of a messaging system. Trim back your acquaintance list and behold your improved, efficient, and less pathetic buddy list.
Sean Conner is a staff columnist for the DSJ. His views do not necessarily represent those of the entire staff.