January 28, 2007

Why I Stopped Using IM and Won't Use Twitter

One of the most-recent fads to sweep the Web is that of Twitter, a service where you leave simple, short messages telling people just what it is you are doing right now, whether that's eating breakfast, walking the dog, cramming for an exam or watching television. The idea behind it is instant insight and status sharing, taking blogging up a notch beyond a daily journal, to instead, a minute by minute chronicle of your day. And I'm not in the least bit interested.

When Instant Messaging (IM) first debuted, it was a great way for people to chat one to one between computers, without the slowness of e-mail exchanges or cost of using the phone. When I first saw an instant message from one computer to another, I was floored, and I can tell you exactly where I was, just like I can tell you exactly where I was the first time I heard a computer speak with a human voice, and the first time I saw webcams used. Each time, I recognized just how cool these technologies could be. But with each, they found a niche, not a revolution.

Like everyone else, I first used instant messaging to talk with friends and family, but then it started to spread to casual contacts and colleagues. The intimacy was gone, as people would add buddies to their buddy list to increase their feelings of self-worth. Entire web sites were built with a goal of comparing one person's buddy list length to another. And as in the real world, sometimes you just didn't want to let some of those people on the buddy list know you were available, leading to annoying conversations started by people who knew just when you logged on and off, and if you were idle or busy. Then came the need to hide yourself from individuals who kept you on their buddy list, even as you had deleted them from yours.

The actual benefits of instant messaging quickly went away for me. Conversations that should have taken place in 3-5 minutes on the phone would now take 15-20 minutes, 5 of which would be awkwardly used trying to get the conversation to a close, waiting for direct responses to questions, and making sure you weren't both typing at once. And the idea that instant messages would aid you in collaboration at work were a bunch of hooey. Anybody I know at the office using IM is using it to talk to a spouse or friend, or, if with another colleague, to complain about the boss or another co-worker. The actual productivity of IM is a significant negative.

I uninstalled my AOL and Yahoo! instant messenger clients from my work computer and laptop a long time ago. At home, I still have iChat, built into the Apple operating system, and have Proteus tucked away for that rare time I think of a reason to use it - but I intentionally told my Mac not to turn on instant messaging services on login, so nobody could bug me.

It's real simple. What is said over IM is very rarely business, and prevents people from getting work done. It's a significant time-waster, and a technology whose time has come and gone. The idea that I would take it up a notch and tell Twitter my every step is yet another task that would get in the way of my actually working, so we're not interested.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Louis,

    I spend quite a bit of my day in front of the computer using IM while I do work. I think IM'ing is like using cell phones, it's not really necessary but it makes things more convenient.

    But when all your friends are signed on, this is a problem. I suggest altering your preferences so only those who you wish to chat with can see that you are online.