Sunday, September 03, 2006

If you IM me do I not read?

I believe the common perception of IMing is the adolescent, late at night in the privacy of TheirSpace or AIM typing short cryptic message blasts at one another. LOL, How R U?

I wish to explore another facet of Instant Messaging. The very controlled and mature deliberate conversation. IMing offers a unique facility for careful and specific communication. It can support a multi-thread model for simultaneous conversations. It can offer a retrospective or historical perspective on conversations. Its speed and the fact that it is text based provides a concise means of communicating complex thoughts in a timely fashion with some stability of the communication channel.

I have experienced conversations using IM that are both mature in nature and deliberate in context. IM is ideally suited for two or more people to engage in a near-real time conversation. Such a conversation can be deliberate in nature, by this I mean it can be concerning issues beyond anecdotal chat. Because of the "I-talk-then-you-talk" nature of IMing there is a heightened sense of turn taking courtesy. This turn taking can be refined into a multi-threaded model which I will discuss later.

Because IMing is text based it imposes certain constraints on the communicators. Clearly and concisely conveying meaning in a written format requires careful and specific word choices. Due to the "expense" of writing out each communique the sender has a tendency to be much more careful than during a typical verbal based communication session. IM sentences and phrases are much more succinct and on topic. It is inherent in this form of communication that corrections or clarifications, while employed, are also expensive and avoided at most cost. Another factor that contributes to this careful and specific communication is the "on the Internet no one can tell you are a dog" phenomenon. Careful tonal and inferential corrections must be made linguistically to prevent either mis-spoken emotion/intent or to indicate emotional/intentional content.

Because most IM programs offer Historical logging it is possible to record and then play back conversations. This provides an opportunity to review and clarify messages that were not fully developed or were misleading. Such a historical perspective also offers the reader a sense of the evolution of the topic material as well as the development of the speakers.

Once two or more individuals become comfortable with the IM medium then it is possible to change to a multi-thread model of communication. Due to the inevitable time lag (Internet transmission time as well as the ability of an individual to type) gaps in the "conversation" develop. By initiating a second or third communication line it is possible for the participants to hold two separate conversations at the same time using the same channel. It is worthy of note that this second or third "conversation" may or may not be contextually linked to the primary communication line.

IMing is a recorded technology, even if logging is not enabled. I record my message then I send it, you receive it then you play it back. This resembles the letter writing model. Because of the speed of transmission "letters" written in IM are shorter, more concise. The combination of the written message and the time lag offers a slower paced communication model. This allows the reader the opportunity to evaluate the incoming message leisurely. Responses can then be thoughtfully composed and sent. The rhythm of the conversation is preserved but is significantly faster than a snail-mail conversation. Conversely participants do not fall into the trap of having to respond immediately in a way that a telephone type or face-to-face conversation fosters.

Instant Messaging offers a unique communication experience in our cyber enhanced world. In the seeming light speed send-and-receive world of the Internet IM offers us the opportunity to actually slow down to an optimum human speed and engage in the very fulfilling exchange of ideas and information. So slow down ... If you IM me do I not read?



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