Genii Weblog

Why I don't use IM... and why I use "almost-IM" instead

Tue 22 Nov 2005, 10:40 AM

by Ben Langhinrichs
Among my circle of friends and colleagues, I am known for being IM-resistant.  Actually, I am known as technology-resistant, practically a Luddite, and proud of it.  But when people actually press me on the issue, I am not always sure how to explain that I am a fan of "almost-IM" more than IM.  But what is "almost-IM"?

"Almost-IM" is a term I use for the rapid, practically real-time, response to forum posts and e-mails.  Stan Rogers is another person who seems to practice this. although I have no idea whether he also uses regular IM.  If you look at the time between e-mails arriving and my responding, it is often a matter of a couple of minutes.  The same can be true in the forums, especially when a topic is "hot".  The responses will fly back and forth, and it almost seems like a chat would be more efficient.  But there is a big difference.

Have you ever had an IM conversation where all of a sudden there was a long pause, sometimes preceded by a quick "brb" ("be right back" for those of you likewise IM-resistant)?  Then there are apologies and a resumption of the chat, even if it is no longer convenient for you.  Or you leave a message saying "gtg" (i.e., "got to go") and leave the chat yourself.  

Have you ever been busy working and had a chat appear suddenly, because you forgot to put up your away message or didn't want to offend anyone?  Perhaps they pop up even when you do have an away message.  (I wouldn't know, as I never leave IM up).

Have you ever seen somebody on line and sent an IM, just to have silence in response?  Are they there and don't want to talk with you?  Have they gone to bed and left AIM up?  You can leave a message such as "Jim-Bob, are you really there?", which Jim-Bob may feel obligated to answer the next day, even though you have moved on to other things.  It feels a bit like having walkie-talkies and continually saying "Can you hear me now?" like those stupid commercials, mostly just to see if the thing is working.

"Almost-IM" solves all these problems.  You can respond immediately, or you can respond next week.  You can send an e-mail and not expect the other person to drop everything if they happen to be busy.  You can respond when you have time without offending anyone.  You can give a quick response and impress people, or give a reasoned response and impress people.  All this, and you are still your own boss.

Copyright 2005 Genii Software Ltd.

What has been said:

397.1. jonvon
(11/23/2005 07:25 AM)

"You can respond immediately, or you can respond next week."

yeah but this is true of IM too. in practice it really isn't any different. the perception is slightly different, but you get used to it, i think, after a while.

this reminds me in a rather oblique but tenuously connected way of my early days using email.

it took me a long time to figure out how to navigate the emotional landscape, how to parse through email text without misunderstanding what someone was saying (or not saying). people started using emoticons and that helped a little. overall though it wasn't emoticons that helped me get over the wall, it was that my brain got used to communicating that way. somehow i figured out how to do it without the facial expressions i was used to in meatspace.

email is an art form like letters or any other form of communication. you get acclimated, realize the points that are negatives and either overcome them or ignore them. i leave messages up on friends' screens sometimes, and sometimes they leave them on mine. as you point out, it is part of the landscape.

to my mind, being so on the ball that you are "almost-IM" with the non-IM technologies you mention seems like a lot more work than what i am required to do with IM, given the flexibility to be "on" or "off" or "sorta there" IM gives me.

of course, choosing not to participate is a totally valid option, and really if i wasn't so tied to email (in particular) i'd have more time for my family and other things that are important to me. but then i wouldn't communicate nearly as much with this or any other online community, and, well, that would suck. email seems to me much more time consuming, and requires a greater balancing act to maintain than IM. if i can get some things done over IM that relieve me of some of the email burden, then IM is a really good thing (for me).

397.2. Stan Rogers
(11/23/2005 05:08 PM)

I see it rather differently. Snail mail is to the telephone as email is to IM. I'm not particularly fond of the telephone either, preferring face-to-face contact or considered correspondance. I spend, on average, about twenty minutes per month on my own telephone, and about half of that time is both inconvenient and unnecessary. If I'm not in a help-desk situation, I would just as soon not have a telephone at work -- if I forward to voicemail, I can tell from the messages left that people have "right now" expectations even if the problem or inquiry can wait. I'll answer a ten-page letter with a twenty-page epistle, and I often do just that, but if you make my telephone ring you had better have a good reason for making an immediate demand on my time. IM is the same thing, as far as I am concerned. I may keep an IM client open from time to time for the same reason I have a telephone at all, but I don't have to like it.