Those who know me and my proclivity for things big, blue and round should sit down immediately. Yes, it is true. I hate instant messaging.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the utility of instant messaging as a communications medium. On the contrary, IM is the grease that lubes the proverbial wheels of this brave, new e-world we live in. Armed with a contact list full of associates, co-workers, clients, friends and family, I’m prepared to blaze through communications in a fraction of the time it used to take.
Remember telephone tag? I leave a voice message for you, so you can later leave a voice message for me? Usually moments after I’ve left the vicinity of the nearest phone, too.
Of course email was useful back in the day. Until spam rendered it virtually ineffective. Now you never really know if your message ever arrived, either because your message is canned by an overzealous spam filter (your mother warned you about using that kind of language!), or because it was lost amid the myriad of emails for illicit prescription drugs, miracle cures and get-rich schemes. Or maybe your friend long-since abandoned that email address (as so many do these days), having long lost the battle against spam and chosen to flee rather than fight?
Instant messaging held so much promise. Relatively spam-free, nearly instant gratification. I see my friend online and *ping!* they get my message. No fuss, right? Maybe…
IM worked well for a long while, but over time, it’s lost some of it’s luster. So why do I hate IM?
I’m TOO available – Most IM programs give you the ability to control who can see whether you’re online or not. But only to a point. If you’ve let them add you to their contact list, and you’re online, they will know. AOL Instant Messenger is the worst of the bunch. Anyone can add you to their contact list without your permission, and see your online status. On the other end of the spectrum, Yahoo! Messenger gives you the most control, allowing you to go “invisible” to everyone on your list, even though you’re still connected. Sneaky, but still not ideal. Best would be the ability to select who can see me, either by name or group. When I’m at home, do I really want to be immediately accessible to my co-workers? Sometimes, yes, but certainly not 24/7.
I’m a slave to the IM – This one is purely a matter of self-control, but most avid IM-users become psychologically conditioned to respond to the melodic tone announcing the arrival of a new instant message. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we jump to attention, eager to see which friend has blessed us with their wit and charm. Or we cringe, knowing that we really should be working, nose-to-the-grindstone, but can’t seem to resist the urge to check. Before you know it, you’re sucked into a conversation with someone you really don’t know, or that you really don’t care about. An hour later… *ping!*… and they cycle repeats. Charles Hummel described it as the “tyranny of the urgent.”
I am jealous – As long as I’m exposing my character flaws, I might as well lay this card down on the table. But I’ll be more than a few of you can relate. You see a friend online. You send them a friendly “hi!” Silence. Hmmm… are they idle? Are they away? Are they ignoring me? Are they busy with someone they’d much rather say “hi” to? I know it sounds pathetic, but show me one IM fanatic who hasn’t been disappointed by the silence on the other end of the IM line and I’ll show you a liar.
Typing is slow – I’m a pretty fast typist, but damn, sometimes the slow-pace of an IM conversation, especially given that your contact may be simultaneously engaged in two or three other IM conversations, can be excruciating. IM is great for the quick exchange of messages, or to send a URL. But for anything more than a few brief exchanges, I’ll always prefer a phone call or meeting face-to-face. IM to establish availability, followed with a phone conversation.
And so, I hate instant messaging.
It’s been said that if the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. Of course, instant messaging is a fabulous tool, one of the best available for communication. I use it at work. I use it at home. I use it to keep in touch with friends near and far away. I’ve met people through instant messages that I might have never met otherwise. But it will never do everything, and it can easily be misused.
So maybe I’m a little too connected. Maybe I need to take a time-out from instant messaging once in a while. A little time offline to recharge the soul, connect with the real world, and keep life in perspective.
Don’t look for me online 24/7, because you won’t find me. I might be there, and I might not. One thing is for certain: I won’t always be slavishly signed-in to AIM, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, and the rest.