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“Away from keyboard” (AFK) is a type of chat lingo that shows a user is stepping away from a hardware device. It was often used in chat rooms and bulletin board systems in the early days of internet chat, to let people know when someone was available and ready to respond to text messages.
"Not at keyboard” (NAK) is a common variant of “away from keyboard.”
In a concentrated internet chat, “afk” can mean anything, from having to wrangle kids or look out the window to monitor a back yard, to times when users have to leave the room entirely. This term was extremely useful in traditional settings, where people were chatting to each other on computers continually, back and forth, and wanted to know why there might be a lack of immediate response.
With today's more loosely set up systems, “afk” is not used as much. On smartphone texting, which has become the prevailing method of digital chat, there is the idea that a sender takes his or her chances, realizing that there is a good chance the individual is distracted or unable to answer a message at any given time. In some ways, the wait indicators on smartphone chat systems (such as small bubbles to indicate a user is typing) do provide clues to whether someone is away from the keyboard or not. In email, there is no use of a designation like “afk,” because it is assumed that someone will monitor their inbox at some time in the future. However, some people who look at how technology is used today have commented that perhaps use of an indicator like AFK could be used to indicate whether or not someone is available to see a message.