Friday, October 12, 2012

Talking with Caroline Moss, the 20-Something New Yorker Behind Nostalgia Goldmine, @YourAwayMessage

Posted By on Fri, Oct 12, 2012 at 12:42 PM

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For a lot of us coming of age in the late 90s and early aughts, the crowning achievement of our afterschool careers was having crafted the perfect AIM away message. It was a high-stakes game of balancing frivolity with diary-entry gravitas, difficult font choices, and chasing down unturned Dave Matthews Band quotes. When you nailed it, your self-identity gained a point. When you didn't, you just hoped your crush wouldn't sign on.

For the last month, 24-year-old Manhattanite Caroline Moss has dug deep into her years growing up in Westchester, whipping up spot-on parody posts for the Twitter feed, @YourAwayMessage. The randomized capitalization, the overused exclamation marks, the distress of being kicked off when your Mom or Dad picked up the phone in the next room: It's all there. Following along is both hilarious and humiliating, but definitely more hilarious. We were once so young! So lame! So unsneakingly blatant with our feelings! We talked to Moss about the overwhelming response to the project, the ease of slipping back into a teenage mind-set, nostalgia and bOyz. OMG, let's do this:

[the sound of a door swinging open]

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How did the idea for @YourAwayMessage come about?

I was en route to my friend Jess's apartment when I started to think about how I used to spend entirely too much time crafting the perfect away message that conveyed my deep and obscure but also totally fun-loving and breezy self to some guy who probably didn't know I was alive. I did a quick search to see if someone was already tweeting those things, and no one was. So I walked into Jess's room, and I was like, "I have this idea, tell me if it's stupid, can I use your computer?" Luckily, she's supportive.

Just one month into it, and you already have more than 166,000 followers, shout-outs in New York Magazine, Huffington Post, and who knows how many word-of-mouth recommendations. Are you surprised by the reaction?

Oh, yes. Every day. I could not have predicted any of it. It's just been a lot of fun.

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I think one reason for its popularity is that it speaks to these collective teenage experiences that at the time we thought were extremely personal and individualized. In retrospect, do you find that the we-were-in-this-thing-together sentiment comforting, or does the realization of having similar experiences belittle the intense, crazy feelings we felt during them?

A little of both. The experiences we had are still all very different and individualized—but it's nice to look back and realize we weren't alone in any of the feelings we had. I think that realization comes with getting older no matter what, though I'm sure when I'm in my 40s, someone will be tweeting a parody-of-Twitter Twitter account, and I'll thank god I'm not a 20-something anymore.

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Sometimes it freaks me out how easily I can slip back into my 16-year-old self's state of mind. Do writing the tweets come naturally to you, or is it something you have to spend some time on?

It depends. Some of them are so obvious. Those are the easy ones—like anything that references "hitting up the cell" or "leave it"—because they were so universal(ly lame). Other ones, like any reference to year-specific culture, I'll poll my friends. I'm like, "OKAY! If I reference Snood, is that relevant? Is it funny? Would you RT it or no?" And they're like, "Heyyy don't you have a job?"

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Have there been moments in the process where you've cringed at your teenage self? I mean, all that random capitalization... what were we thinking?

Oh please, I have been and will be cringing at my teenage self forever. When @YourAwayMessage started to gain traction, my mom found a box of AOL conversations that I PRINTED OUT and KEPT. I put them under my bed. They were with boys I liked; they all took place in 2000-2002. Now they're in my apartment (thanks Mom!), but I won't look at them. PTSD. I will say though, there's a conversation in there that has this gem: "running out to get something from the car, brb in 2 seconds, but leave one if u need me or love me." Leave one if you NEED ME or LOVE ME. BACK IN TWO SECONDS.

Some argue that pop culture has become overrun with nostalgia, especially from the 20-to-30-year-old millennials. Why do you think that feeling of looking back is so appealing for people our age?

This is our generation's version of "When I was your age, I had to walk 27 miles to school in the SNOW," except it's more like, "We only had 27 texts per month before we had to pay more money and the computer was in the LIVING ROOM." I don't think it will ever get old to look back and see how far you've come.

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Knowing what we know now, would you want your 16-year-old self to have access to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, et al. like teenagers do today?

F no. (Can I say F no?). F no. But I would have had all of them, and I would have loved it.

What was better: Getting an "A" on a math test or seeing an AIM box from your crush appear on your computer screen?

I can confidently say I have never gotten an A on any math-related anything ever, so obviously, AIM box from my crush!

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If you could only choose one: Dave Matthews Band or Dashboard Confessional?

Not fair. That's like asking if I have a favorite parent. MaH lipz r SeALeD. :-*

A parting note...

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Follow Lauren Beck on Twitter @heylaurenbeck.

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