Instant Messaging Etiquette

by Krishna on May 3, 2011

Leigh Alexander talks about new forms of anxiety created by the Internet:

A vague and gnawing pang of anxiety centered around an IM window that has lulled. During this time an individual feels unsure whether they have offended the IM recipient, committed a breach of IM etiquette, or have otherwise spoilt the presentation of themselves carefully crafted thus far thanks to the miracles of the textual medium. The individual must be at least vaguely aware that they are being vaguely paranoid, and must tell themselves things like ‘he probably just stepped away from the keyboard’ or ‘I know she is at work right now so perhaps she has stopped replying because she is busy.’

It is the strangest thing. I have exactly the same emotion as in the article. Often, friends will buzz me on Google Talk for a conversation. Sometimes, after a few sentences back and forth, the person disappears for a while or completely. I suspect that at least some of my friends are chatting with others at the same time and they just plain forgot about me.

So, I usually look at my previous messages to see if I accidentally cracked a bad joke. Or if I neglected to respond properly to some of their messages. Or maybe a topic I wanted to talk about was off-limits. For example, once I asked someone how his family was doing, and he disappeared for 15 minutes while remaining online. I thought, maybe he is too possessive and doesn’t like people coming too close to his family. It turned out that he had received a phone call while chatting. Similar to the time I asked someone about the weather and he just went away.

To some extent, I might be guilty of the same thing too. I use GTalk at work because it is very convenient to have chat transcripts saved automatically in Gmail and switch to talking if needed. Frequently, I am chatting with 3–4 people at the same time (although sometimes I put some of them “on hold”). Sometimes, I get too involved in what one person is writing about (like a task that they have questions about) and inadvertently ignore the others.

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