Out of curiosity, I tried to check if the ICQ chat is still operational. To my surprise, ICQ is still around and active! I used to have an ICQ chat account 16 years ago. Sixteen years ago, we didn’t have social media yet and a fast internet connection. I was one of the regular customers of the computer shop. When work demands were low, I spent my free time browsing through the internet for Hollywood gossip or chatting with random strangers in Yahoo Messenger or ICQ.
Unlike some who made fancy-sounding names, I used my real name in YM. As a result, two of my high school mates sent me a chat message asking if I was the Iris that they knew from Tdel. Of course, I denied that I was that person. One of them was not convinced and even challenged me to open my webcam.
I learned my lesson from YM so when I created my ICQ account, I used a unisex name. I can’t remember exactly how I ended up chatting with an IT in Baguio. The first chat was supposed to be brief. I was just interested in the latest happenings in Baguio. He probably liked me as a chatmate so the next day, he sent me a message to ask if I had eaten my lunch.
He was not aware if I was a “he” or a “she”—he simply did not ask. He was probably more concerned about having someone to talk to rather than spoil the mystery if he was chatting with a girl or a boy. For almost a month, I spent half of my lunch break chatting with him. He talked about his recent break-up while I divulged some relationship issues from my end. He gave me some sensible relationship advice that was generic and applicable to both genders.
In the fourth week of our cyber friendship, I decided to unmask myself and be honest about who I was. So one lunch break, I told him about my age, location, and my gender. I did not realize that being transparent about the real me would cost the beautiful cyber friendship that we established for the past three weeks.
“You know, I kept on spying who among the people here is chatting with me secretly. I was not expecting that my chatmate was not the person that I thought to be,” it was one of his final messages to me.
Days passed and there was no message from my ICQ friend. They say that virtual friendships rarely develop into something real. He created a fantasy of chatting with somebody that he secretly liked in the office and he was disappointed when he learned that I was not that person. It was understandable for him to be vulnerable because he came from a breakup. What I took from that experience was the sound advice that he gave during the low times of my life.
With the advancement in technology, I feel like I’m being saturated with means on how to connect with people. Maybe I’m old enough to know that not all virtual friendships are worth the time and space so even my social media accounts are cleaned every now and then for inactive “friends.”