Saturday, August 21, 2004


Internet: To IM or not

I rarely use instant messaging. I haven't developed a complex theory why, and, the far Right hasn't managed to link my apostasy to some presumed malfeasance by John Kerry -- yet. Perhaps it has to do with longevity on the 'Net. As a veteran of AOL chatrooms in the early '90s, Talk City news chats later, and various ethnic and women's sites, not to mention Yahoo and, I think I may have exceeded my lifetime bandwidth for real time interaction on the Web a long time ago. If responding in comments to something I've said or emailing me is not fast enough, I wonder why. I don't miss the immediacy and like being able to adhere to other things I'm working on instead of answering the online equivalent of the phone.

However, being a reasonable person, I am willing to lend an ear to people who approve of instant messaging. Brian Cooley, at ZDNet's Anchordesk, likes IM. Cooley is a convert who started out with a decidedly different opinion.

Working at CNET back in 1996, it seemed like everyone on earth went with instant messaging, but I stood pat with e-mail. Why? Like so many of my life's little stances, I can't remember anymore.

I think it had something to do with thinking IM was an unseemly waste of time, just another way to goof off in an industry that didn't exactly need more of those. For example, my office was less than two minutes away from a massage place, a video arcade, a foosball parlor, and a phalanx of Coke machines--and that was without leaving the building

I don't know that I ever considered instant messaging unseemly. Most people who contacted me did not spell you're 'your' or blather about Britney Spears. The conversations were more likely to be about a legal decision or a book I'd mentioned reading. They weren't a waste of time, but neither were they momentous. Answering my IMs was much less goofing off than the millions of Americans who play Solitaire on their computers at work are engaged in. I've never been to the kind of massage place Cooley is referring to and I don't play foosball.

Cooley's main reason for liking instant messaging is disliking email.

But today e-mail is choked with garbage, and I think that's the best reason for IM. I run two spam filters just to get down to 300 spam messages in my in-box each day. People I need to reach aren't responsive to e-mail anymore; they seem to check it every few hours or so, probably dreading the onslaught of spam and tedious threads that await them.

IM restores that rapid-fire pungency e-mail used to have, an electronic version of someone sticking their head in your office door.

My email filters are about 75 percent effective in identifying detritus and depositing it in my Junk and Trash folders. I weed through the rest. I don't believe IMing would make much difference in how much email I receive. I already route real life communicants to email addresses that I don't publish, so I know to check those accounts often.

I suspect Brian Cooley's real motivation for IMing is the immediacy he refers to as "rapid-fire pungency." There was a time, years ago, when I might have said the same thing. But, as more words than I care to think about have come and gone from and to me on the Internet, I've become less eager to have someone stick his head in my office door. Email me instead.

Note: This entry also appeared at Mac-a-ro-nies.

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