My mother checks my away message every night before she goes to sleep. Sometimes, I'll receive an IM in the middle of the night in response to a witty, somewhat crude dialogue I thought was funny enough to post. Typing furiously from our home twenty minutes away, she admonishes me for inappropriate content that "everyone- even Mrs. Heath" can see. Then she signs off, the timestamp evidence of her worry that I might not be in bed yet.

Though I doubt my calc teacher from high school has me on her buddy list, let alone checks my away message at 3AM, it's nice to know that Mom's tapping into a medium which she at one point promised me would "never take off." Sure, it's a bit weird that she has Andre 3000 blaring on her iPod and does DDR workouts in the basement. But when I receive an instant message reminding me to eat dinner and relax a bit before starting the latest batch of English essays, it makes me feel grateful that she's latched onto the Internet with such gusto.

Sometimes, though, Mom's online actions border stalkerish activity. She checks my away message when she gets up in order to make sure it's different than the one she went to bed with. If it doesn't change within a period that's to her liking, I receive a phone call. Sometimes I feel like it'd be easier to just wear an ankle bracelet and a GPS positioning device implanted in my back molar.

My mother is certainly not the only member on my buddy list to abuse her AIM privileges occasionally. In fact, the entire community could benefit from a little instant messenger etiquette refresher course. If anything, it would prevent those unsightly warnings which we all know don't mean a damn thing. I have designed a five-step etiquette guide to enhance your online experience, whether it is with your parents or associates or strangers you meet on an online preteen message board to discuss the latest episode of Bug Juice.

1. Away messages should be witty, crude, and full of inside jokes that no one, including yourself, should completely understand.
An improper away message indicates exactly what you're doing, with whom, and where. For example Off to the lab to study invertebrate classifications for an hour is giving your reader way too much credit. A better away message would omit the non-pertinent information. Song lyrics, excerpts from taped LBJ conversations, and Morse code all work well, as do insider jokes and shout outs to a boyfriend back in Seoul.

2. Waste no time before messaging someone immediately after they sign on. Immediately.
With an AIM alert, you waste no time in saying hello to that special someone when your computer earnestly moos with pleasure. In fact, many girls like to be hit with lots of messages as soon as they sign on. Hundreds. It¡