The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Instant Messenger Blues

I dislike Instant Messenger.

Actually, that's not quite accurate.

I hate Instant Messenger with the fury of an army of Hun overtaking a Roman fortress, and I firmly believe that the developers of Instant Messenger should be quartered and their remains placed on pikes as a warning to others who might foolishly walk the same path as they.

Yeah, that's more accurate.

My first exposure to Instant Messenger came when I was a senior in college. I had logged into my sister's AOL account (yeah, remember when AOL was actually generally considered to be a good service provider? You know, right before they saturated the market with poor service and everyone discovered that they were a crappy provider.), and I was online browsing for something or other (I'd like to think I was looking up all manner of sciency goodness or reading up on history, but being as how I was 22 and bored, I was probably looking for porn). Somebody, probably a teenager, sent me an Instant message:

"Hey doll"

Truly a latter-day Don Juan. And they say that romance is dead.

I wrote back:


To which they wittily responded:

"Hey doll. Are you sexy?"

Befuddled, I simply responded:

"Fuck off"

To which they wrote:

"Don't be like that, doll. What do you look like?"

Ahh, now my strategic playing-hard-to-get was working, and I delivered the coup-de-grace:

"Being as how I'm a 6'2" germanic looking guy with alot of body hair, you might not want to be calling me 'doll'."

They stopped bothering me.

So, my experience with Instant Messenger began with a half-witted adolescent trying to pick up on me while under the illusion that I was a young woman, and my experience with the program has somehow actually managed to go downhill from there. You see, worse than horny adolescents discovering Instant Messenger, my friends discovered it.

After a time, I had an AOL account (shudder), and AOL had Instant Messenger built in to the software. The AOL version had the annoying habit of popping up over whatever you happened to be doing, a feature that I was assured could be disabled but somehow always managed to be mysteriously and automatically turned back on within 20 minutes of me disabling it. So, there I would be, checking email, browsing the internet, or doing any of dozens of other activities, and I would be brought to a sudden halt as my window minimized and an instant message popped up. If I ignored it and went back to what I was doing, I would be interrupted again and again until I responded, and then they wouldn't let me go or respect my request to not be bothered with Instant Messenger. They would insist that my dislike of being interrupted in this way didn't apply to them seeing as how they were my ever-so-bestest friend (regardless of which of the myriad of people I happened to be dealing with online), and besides they had oh-so-important news to tell me about - the "news" almost always being some useless bit of gossip or thing that I didn't much care about.

And let me be clear, the people who would use Instant Messenger were not the sorts to want to notify me of actually important breaking news, or to want to contact me about an important personal matter. The people who would do that knew that I preferred telephones over text for instant communication, and therefore made use of that tool instead.

To make this more annoying, it is not as if I have ever made a secret of my loathing of this program. In fact, I make a point of displaying my hatred of it (as this blog post attests). When someone insists on communicating with me via Instant Messenger, I make a special point of letting them know that I dislike the program. It does no good, everyone still seems to think that I really want to talk with them via Instant Messenger, as if I am somehow trying to use reverse psychology to encourage them to contact me.

In addition to the problem of unwanted interruption, Instant Messenger has another problem. In a telephone conversation, you have both the words you say and how you say them (tone of voice, accent, cadence, etc.) as tools for communicating information. These are missing from Instant Messenger, and not even the most annoying of emoticons or "smileys" (easily the most irritating things to come from the internet...yes, even more irritating than lolcats) can replace the voice.

In other forms of written communication, such as email or (gasp) normal mail, you may lack the advantages of spoken communication, but you gain all of the time you need to craft your message and make your meaning clear.

Instant Messenger lacks both of these, it is as if it's designers decided to take the worst aspects of other forms of communication and combine them into one annoying whole. So, we have short messages which are expected to be responded to quickly in which you have only written text to convey information. Clearly, an inferior tool.

When I voice these objections, people invariably tell me that "you can take as long as you want to respond to an instant message, there's no rush!" Clearly these people have never tried using Instant Messenger to communicate with other humans. Outside of a work context, I have yet to have anyone try to speak with me over Instant Messenger who did not become astoundingly annoying with their constant attempts to get assurance from me that I was still online and paying attention to them whenever I was silent for more than one or two minutes.

Eventually, I escaped from AOL, and then proceeded to spend several years blissfully free of the accursed program. Occasionally, someone would encourage me to set up an Instant Messenger account with some service or another, and I would tell them in no uncertain terms what they could go do with themselves. I had to have the program on my work computer, certainly, but my coworkers have generally used it strictly for work purposes and managed to not do anything annoying. It was a wonderful time in my life.

But then, in the last few years, many of the online services that I have used for other purposes entirely have begun to add Instant Messenger as a feature, and I have again discovered that people insist on trying to talk to me via it, even when I have made my dislike for the alleged utility well known.

For example, I may be putting photos up on Facebook only to be hit with a deluge of messages from people, most of which are simply empty exchanges that could be more casually and appropriately done with email. Since Yahoo has made Instant Messenger part of its package I find it difficult to check my email without one of a myriad of people trying to talk with me - and again, turning off my online visibility seems to not work particularly well. While both Facebook and Yahoo's messenger interfaces are less intrusive than AOL's were, they still block parts of the screen that I am often attempting to look at, and must be turned off in order to actually do those things that I am trying to do.

I have found myself increasingly logging onto websites for no more than a few minutes at a time, hoping to be in and out before anyone notices that I am online. My irritation in this regard is probably furthered by the fact that I am usually on a site with this software for a specific purpose - to check email, upload photos, post a blog, etc. - and exchanging pleasantries is not included on my list of reasons to be on that site.

However, as much as I dislike Instant Messenger, everyone else seems to love it. Today while checking my email alone I have had three different people try to pull me into "conversations" using the infernal device. And as more and more websites and software packages seem to be including it, and as the people around me become less and less sensitive to the fact that I do not have any desire to carry out conversations through this program, it looks like I have a long slog ahead as I try to hide while online.

P.S. On the upside, while these folks are a bit too lenient on Satan's Own Communications Network, I am happy to see that I am not the only person who hates instant messaging.


Dave Hasbrouck said...

I long ago uninstalled all my instant messenger software, and I'm lucky in that when I log into facebook invisibly, people usually don't attempt conversation.

The thing I hate about instant messenger is that, on my computer at least, it tends to freeze up my computer when I have certain other programs open. For instance, a lot of time when I'm working in photoshop, I also need to have my browser open so I can... ahem... steal background clip art.

It would never fail; the moment I would open my browser, Yahoo IM would log itself on without me noticing, somebody would send me a message and everything would freeze up, thereby causing me to lose anything I didn't recently save.

Evan Davis said...

I feel left out. I have never used AOL, Yahoo or any other service that requires the use of Instant messaging (I have my own domain which prevents this need). Also no one has ever attempted to instant message me through Facebook (I wasn't aware of such a feature.

I joined ICQ so long ago that my ICQ number is 7 numbers. The only times I have used it at home I have purposely turned the program on to do so. At work it helps me get work done. I haven't used it in a while.

Recently I turned it on to try to contact a customer service agent. I was delighted to find John Garcia online and attempting to contact me.