IM and the Social Aspect

Sitting here at work today I figured that I would be productive and get some stuff done. I sent some emails, then I began to read an article about IM use and social interaction for one of my classes.

The article was so simplistic that I wanted to cry while reading it. Maybe because I have been using IM for around 8 years now in various forms (AIM, MSN, IRC, etc…) that I saw it as such. In either case, the article just made me think how I used IM when I was in high school.

From what I can remember I didn’t spend much time online at all before I came to college. The internet was mainly a tool for me to enhance my studies and to occasionally chat to people online. I was pretty active with the music program and athletics that my time at home was generally at a premium. So, my online time was even less important to me unless it was going to accomplish something.

The article that we read (or are supposed to) talks mainly about the social aspect of IM. I think that it is pretty right about what it says for social communication and to setup social gatherings and the like. I just think that it applies more to me now than it did around 4 years ago. Now, this is not to say that I wasn’t social four years ago, I just didn’t use IM to organize it. But, today that is different. I think I use a combination of phone, SMS, and IM to organize or attend social gatherings.

It was also interesting to see how people did not prefer to talk to complete strangers while online and in chat rooms. I have only been in chat rooms on IM with friends and the only place that I talk to complete strangers is via IRC. However, in IRC the topics that are discussed are related to a common topic–gaming. To me this seems normal, the talking to people on IRC that I don’t know, to an extent.

What I mean is that many of read blogs, post in online forums, and comment on things where we don’t even know the author. We just know of them. There is no problem with this, but we interact with those that we know little to nothing about every day. So, talking to someone in a chat room is, in my opinion, not that different that doing any of the things I listed above. It is still interacting within a community of people that you may know or not. This was a little tangent, but I guess I just wanted to justify what I was saying.

As I am writing this I am on IRC talking to a “friend” about what’s new with me and what is going on with him. I have never met this person, nor do I think I ever will. But, I don’t necessarily feel weird about it.

IM will change, as it already has, the way we communicate with each other from things of pleasure to those of business. But, the one thing I see as a problem coming up in the business world is drawing the line between the current convention of informality to something formal for a business setting. Many companies prohibit the use of IM online for many different reasons to prevent damage to their company and their name and just rule it out in the first place. I think that it could be an invaluable productivity tool, but security and performance issues might arise with the adoption. I could be totally wrong on this though.

I think that anybody who reads this article and has been using IM for a while will soon realize that it is like your parents guide to IM. Here is what an “Away Message” is, etc.. Unless your parents are my parents who have online time into the days. I guess they are the exception.