Posted on November 25, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Games, Health, HowTo, Musings |

The title of this post is a bit cryptic. IM is the acronym for “Instant Messaging”, something we’ve all probably done, at least a bit. With the apostrophe in place, it is also the contraction for “I Am”. I’m writing today about online communication as I experience it. I’ve had a shift in thinking, recently, and want to share that shift in my favorite place to write—here on the blog!

When I was very, very, young; long ago in a land far away, before there was email; before there were home computers, even, I had a pen-pal. I met her on a cruise ship, of all places. My aunt decided to treat my mother and I to a cruise to Hawaii! She was looking for travel companions, and didn’t like to fly, so a-cruising we went. This was the first time I’d been in Hawaii, and I would remember the place for eleven years until I went there to live for a time.

Anyway, I met Penny; exactly my age. She lived in New Jersey; I, in California. We got along. We ran around the ship together. She was with her aunt, as well—what a coincidence! We didn’t see each other during our stay in Hawaii, but, we discovered we’d be on the same ship together on the way back, too. We decided to become pen-pals, and wrote to each other for a decade. Amazing! I don’t know what’s become of her. She stopped writing to me when she got married, at a very young age. Apparently she’d outgrown our friendship.

A few years later, along came email. I signed on as soon as possible. I got a free account from the local university, and it took a lot of work to log on in those days. You know, dial-up, POP, and other things I still don’t understand. Still, some of my far-flung friends were online, and I could sit in my room, late at night, and catch up with them without writing letters.

There are still some of those relationships I continue primarily through email, including that with my sister, my only sibling. Then, a few years later on, I started to hear about this thing called “Blog”. This was right up my alley…but wait! I have skipped a step. My email account at that point was on America Online. I still have that one, used mostly for personal correspondence and family. AOL had introduced this feature called “IM”, later, “AIM”. I would be online, surfing the web, minding my own business, and suddenly a popup would appear! “Hi”, my friend or relative would say, “Whatcha doin’?” —To use an expression popular at the time, this really freaked me out! Someone knew I was online! They knew what I was doing! They might as well have had secret cameras planted in my room for all it affected my equilibrium!

I liked my friends; I liked (most of) my family, but, soon, I learned how to disable this “IM” thing. It made me uncomfortable. I found it interruptive, and, unlike blogging, it required a real-time instant response from me. This does not paint me at my best. I like to MUSE (thus my blog name) cogitate, regurgitate, ponder, and post. Instant chat? —Not so much.

All well and good. As you can see, I discovered the blogging platform, and enjoy it tremendously. I still use email for personal messages, and I like that I can respond in my own good, thoughtfully considered time. By the way, you will also have guessed by now that I don’t do “texting” either. I use my phone to make occasional calls, when life dictates it is the quickest path to my goal. I don’t like actually talking on the phone much, either!

Then, recently, I joined an online virtual community. There, the primary mode of communication is….INSTANT MESSAGING!!! At first, I was so fascinated with the whole experience, that I figured maybe it was time to go ahead and learn to do this despicable thing. There really is no other way to be in the virtual world. One runs around, and meets people—in my case in classes and discussion groups, mostly—and unless one wants to just be lonely and explore, one must chat. Eeek!

When I decided to move to Hawaii, eleven years after my introduction to that tropical world by my Auntie, I spent the first couple of months all by myself. This was OK with me. I like to scope out new territory before interacting with people. Eventually, I did make friends (through classes I took—do you see a pattern?) and began to do things with them. In the virtual world, I spent the first month largely by myself. When I met a couple of people on an island, I confessed that “you are the first people I’ve talked to!” Probably the wrong thing to say, as they thought I was a bit weird. I had met a couple of avatars, or virtual representations of people, who walked right up to me; must have thought my avatar was attractive, and asked if I had a partner and how old I was. When I explained I “wasn’t there for that” (at least not initially) πŸ™‚ they would run away, very quickly.

After a while, I kind of got used to the “IM” thing. After all, when I was in a class or discussion, how could I discuss if I didn’t type something, in real time? But, what I noticed is that I “made friends” VERY quickly, often based upon the most superficial of details. I guess this is a condition of Facebook, too—you’d have to tell me, as I don’t participate in that platform, either.

One of the things I liked about the virtual world was that I could have chats very late at night, when I’m actually awake and alert, at times I would never telephone a real life friend. During one such chat with a person I had “friended” I found myself on the receiving end of some very unpleasant dialog. The person had thought I had certain values and interests. I’d thought the person had other values. It ended excruciatingly, and, actually, I felt emotionally drained and abused by this person’s contempt. Oh my.

I have never experienced this on the blog. Even when I’ve gotten less than supportive comments, I’ve been able to step away, consider my response, and always look for the good in the commenter. In IM, it all goes by so fast, I don’t have that ability. You might be wondering if I’m able to have face-to-face conversations with real people. Somehow, this is possible and pleasurable for me. I think the difference is that in IM, one doesn’t have physical cues, just words flashing by; fast and furious.

I stepped away from the virtual world for a week or so. It happened that it was also at an extremely busy time in my real life: a concert series ending production; a speaker series ready to go. I didn’t blog during that time, either. I felt some “online burnout”, and it translated to real-life friend-avoidance, too. Now, I’m cautiously approaching the virtual world again. But it’s different; no longer as carefree.

I learned much from this experience. Firstly, to re-evaluate my values; to be sure they are ones with which I’m currently congruent. Secondly, to not get distracted by the dazzle of an online personality if that person’s values are greatly incompatible. (I can learn a lot from people who differ, but not from those who hold my values in contempt.) It really has been a valuable experience, and I believe it has changed me, virtually and really. I’ll be fascinated to see where it all leads.

Do you like to “IM”? Is your cognitive processing faster than mine, so that it feels natural and right to you? If so, perhaps you can give me lessons? πŸ™‚


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22 Responses to “I(‘)M”

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I use IM a lot, although not quite as much in the past months. There are some people I don’t know in real life that I know primarily on IM. I’ve known him online for four years and we talk nearly daily about music, games, etc. I think it helps we have the exact same humor and just generally get on, even though he lives on the other side of the world and is younger than me.

Talking on IM to real life friends can be difficult. One of my friends argues with me on there a lot, something he never does when we meet or talk on the phone.

I do find that there is an obligation with IM, something that’s not there on other platforms. For example if I have a question for someone I tend to just ask them on Twitter, that way I’m not imposing myself and they can answer the question whenever it’s convenient for them. Or if it’s something lengthy that can wait a while with a reply, I’ll email or if it’s someone in real life I’d call/text them. I don’t like imposing on people.

IMing tends to come very naturally to me, and I think it’s because it’s something I’ve been doing since I was a teenager. But other than that, I find it’s a good balance of being less immediate than a phone call or a face-to-face conversation — you can do other things while you chat, and can be less formal about starting/ending conversations — but at the same time immediate enough for those times one needs responses more quickly than one would over e-mail. It could be that you simply don’t have that latter need, which is reasonable.

I also find that the lack of body language and tone of voice can be as much of a help as a hindrance, particularly when it allows me to put more focus on the words themselves rather than other distracting factors. This approach only really works for me when those I’m chatting with are also good at writing, and indeed, most people I regularly talk to over IM fit this profile. That said, with many people I care about, regardless of writing ability, I would find it even more enjoyable if we had face-to-face (and even just voice-based) conversations, but that’s often not possible due to distance and logistics, so IM is kind of the next best thing. In most cases, I’m happy experiencing a mix of all of the above.

I turned off IMs in 1996 and refuse to resume. I hate the interruptions unless I’m just idly clicking around. That almost never happened back then, when we paid for access by the minute, and still doesn’t happen much today. Very intrusive.

But I really hopped over not to kvetch but to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. It’s such a good holiday, isn’t it? No need to wrap ourselves in the flag or go to religious services (or feel guilty about skipping them)or do anything much at all, beyond giving thanks. And eating. πŸ˜‰

Hope your day is glorious!

I don’t use IM that often anymore. I used to use it a lot when I was younger and first started out online but I’ve moved more to Twitter and Skype in the last year. I’ve always found it a slightly clumsy way of communicating; because it’s so immediate, unless you know the person very well it’s easy for your tone to be misunderstood. I still prefer email overall.

One thing IM is great for, though, is collaborative writing. It’s really useful to be able to talk to someone as they’re reading your work. Saved me from writer’s block many times. πŸ˜‰

I actually met one of my best friends via IM. She lives in the Netherlands and we got to know each other via IM and email for a year, before we decided to become penpals. We both liked sending letters and it seemed nice, to keep the art alive. I hope email never completely replaces letters. There’s something lovely about receiving a handwritten letter from a friend.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and everyone in the US, Muse. Hope you have a great day. πŸ™‚

I found your perspective quite helpful, cat, and I thank you for sharing it, particularly that about how it’s more difficult to IM with people you know well in real life. You do make an important point about how some relationships exist solely in IM, and that those relationships are very valuable! I’m with you on the obligation part of it all, that’s why I turned off the option in email. I don’t mind if I’m prepared, and I have the time, but a couple of times people have caught me just as I was about to log off; yet I didn’t want to seem rude or that I was ignoring them. A dilemma indeed.

I get what you’re saying, Deirdra. I didn’t start IM-ing years ago because I didn’t like the idea of it; didn’t really give it a chance. Perhaps, with more experience, I would get to like it better. I have found this policy has worked for other things; it’s just remembering it at the time that’s the issue! Thanks for the reminder. πŸ™‚ I found very interesting your assertion that IM can actually make some conversations easier and more pertinent because of the lack of visual cues; that those things we’re taught to value can actually be a distraction. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I do find, in virtual reality discussions, that I feel freer to type what I wish, when I want, because I’m not really interrupting someone the way I might do in real life if I wanted to get a point across. This results in some interesting conversational sequences, as often the comment I type is responding to something three sentences back, as the typing can fly by very quickly. But, it already seems to me that this is the nature of the beast, and I’ve adapted fairly well. It is to be expected.

Kvetching on Thanksgiving is a long family tradition with mine, so you made me feel right at home ella! πŸ™‚ But I actually spent the holiday with friends that don’t do that (much). Thank you for your good wishes, I had a wonderful time, and your sesame green beans recipe was a big hit! My only complaint about them is that I had hardly any to bring home, and there had been plenty of food. But, of course I can make them again; yay! I agree about the intrusiveness of IM, particularly within web surfing or email applications. Cheers for the on/off switch!

Really, collaborative writing, cj? I’d never thought of that. I’d like to know more. I’m not sure I’d like IM-ing with someone while they were reading my work, but I can see how it could be a useful tool. And you say it has freed up your writing! I must think about this! πŸ™‚ That is great about your friend. A virtual pal has become a pen pal. There is something satisfying and just, well, tangible about receiving a real letter. I hardly do any more, but I remember looking forward to my pen pal’s letters. So you agree with me about the sometimes awkward immediacy about IMs? I wouldn’t mind this as much if my brain worked as quickly as some people’s fingers do! πŸ˜€ Twittering and blogging are easier in many ways, indeed, as I’m doing them on my own time at my own speed. Sometimes, though, Twitter can be almost real time-ish, if we’re online at the same time. I’ve responded to some of yours almost immediately, and that’s kind of fun! Thanks for the Thanksgiving greetings. It’s always nice to take a day to appreciate.

I enjoyed your post MUSE. I go back and forth with my love and hate of technology. It has brought many good things…I wouldn’t be sharing with you if it weren’t here! But I do think it’s in it’s infancy in regards to how we use it. Already we see things quickly rise and fall. Early adopters of Twitter with nothing to say, saying it, have fallen to self-promoters. Early facebook adopters have also fallen away for me telling me they jump on every 6 months or so. even chatty facebook friends from a year ago rarely post anymore. iPhone technology has captured attention with it’s shiny new things and life goes on squeezing more and more time from us. I find myself coming back to the quiet of the blog. For me it’s like sitting next to a reflecting pond. I see more people fatigued from all the social media hype and demands. Have we reached a tipping point where there is so much demand for our attention it all turns to beige, disappearing from our once loving gaze? Hallelujah if so! Hallelujah! We go outside and walk in the woods (and post a lovely pic on facebook from ouriPhone to share) I’ll stick with your blog Muse. It makes my heart sing! Oh one thing about IM–I do like it but only use it for work to get questions answered. If it is a personal note, it may be just hi. I needed to learn when to leave a party–I have trouble with goodbyes. IM can be a great way to just say hi if we could end it there but most rarely do. I don’t use it except at work where it’s functional.

I can’t say I’ve ever IM’d more than a few times in my life, but would say that Twitter is all IM-ing. which I do. But as someone else said, it can be a terrific brainstorming tool and to get advice or quick feedback on an idea. but a big time waster… I would so much rather email than talk on the phone. I want to see my words and think and EDIT and say what I want to say any hour of the day. No need to bother someone by phoning for a question (and probably why I was not successful at sales!)

This is just an incredibly insightful comment, seeing. You’ve given me a lot to think about, like how many people jump on the bandwagon when a technology is new, and then tire of it. I tend to lurk and wait, and probably jump in when most people are over it! πŸ™‚ I’m glad blogging is still popular, although I know quite a few who have stopped blogging too. I LOVE your notion that the blog is more “quiet” —yes! Aw, thanks! πŸ˜€ I am nurtured by yours as well.

So, you also like IM for brainstorming, IdeaJump? I guess I’m such a loner, at least regarding writing, that it’s hard for me to imagine. I know what you mean about phone vs. email, though. Sometimes someone will phone me for a quick answer (40 seconds if by email) and then say “So, how are you?” It’s nice that they care, but 40 minutes later… πŸ˜‰

Hi Muse. I use IM with family in place of a phone call. I don’t often sign in to it for any other reason because I find it can be a bit much. Everyone knows I have signed in and then you get 5 people IMing you at the same time. When it first came out I have to admit to being an IM junkie. The novelty wore off.

Still it has benefits. Sending documents and photo’s and files. You know the person got it right then. It can be fun. I’m a little more spontaneous when it comes to IM than any other type of communication on the computer. πŸ™‚

Hope you are doing well. Have some catching up to do, cya

I do use IM. A lot. And I am so instant using it at times that it interrupts my work. 😦

But I can chat with real life buddies as well on chat during the day at work. It is useful that way. But I chat with very selective few. I am prompt with blocking irritating and unpleasant people.

It is interesting how a new thing will capture our interest for a time, isn’t it BD? It is VERY hard to follow a conversation when there are several people IMing at once. Yet, I don’t want to be rude… Better to just opt out. It’s nice you use it with family, though! πŸ™‚

Wow, Poonam! Yes, it really can take a lot of time. It sounds like you have learned to be selective. And it’s a little more private than phone calls in public. πŸ™‚

I don’t use IM too much, and when I use it, I set it to “away” even if I’m right on me computer. I really don’t like getting, let’s say, interrupted to answer an IM when I’m working on a project or processing one of my photos… or even when I’m surfing the web. I rather communicate through email, so I can reply at my earliest convenience.

I’m sorry to read that you had a bad experience with that person. It’s good you see it as a valuable one, though; that’s very wise of you.

I don’t IM as often as I used to. Social media has given me more options to communicate these days. I am dreaming for a trip to Hawaii.. Sigh πŸ™‚

My IM is on most of the day, Muse – I love it, always have right from the first days on the ‘net. There is no way I would ever give it up. πŸ™‚

Merry Christmas to you as well – have a good one!

I’m glad that you just got seared by the
virtual world before it burned you out πŸ™‚
I like IM’ing but only with close friends and sparsely.
I don’t like IM’ing because it’s hack and virus-prone.
And like you, my user name implies contemplation.

Long time Muse! Sorry been out of the blogsphere totally! Interesting topic you have picked. Love the way you have written from when writing meant putting pen on paper πŸ™‚
IM is the way I keep in touch with my friends. Can’t wait to see a hiya or hallo from a friend on the list. Yes, sometimes I don’t want some to see me online. The invisibility status helps πŸ˜‰ The internet has been great for me – to get information, to keep me & my brain occupied and most of all to keep in touch with friends & of course to make new ones too πŸ˜€

Hi Juan, sorry for the long response time. I’ve been offline for a bit. That’s what I experience, too! I have “issues” with focus at the best of times, and if I hear pongs, pings, and bings going off while I’m trying to concentrate, it bugs me. It’s different if I have an appointment with someone, or if I’m in an environment where IM-ing is expected. Thank you for your kind words; I do try to learn from my experiences! πŸ™‚

There certainly are a lot of different social media opportunities, Kiran! Well, Hawaii in Second Life is quite nice! πŸ™‚

Are you, Will? I know some things are for some people, and not for others. How do you feel about Facebook? πŸ˜‰ I wish for you and your family the best of holiday seasons, also, my friend. πŸ™‚

I agree, poch, there’s something just so…immediate about IM that disturbs my flow, as it were. I’m having fun back in my virtual world again, most people are really nice, and I stick to activities which suit my interests.

Oh, Apar! I do check in with you from time to time; I’m glad you are still around! I do love the internet; I’m online almost all day long! It’s just that I want to use it on my own terms. IM is a convenient way to keep in touch. I suppose I really must try it before dissing it! πŸ™‚ Right now, I only IM in the virtual world, otherwise I use email or Twitter. I love how I can meet wonderful people from all over the world online, like YOU! πŸ˜€

Thanks for the good wishes!

How do you feel about Facebook?

To be honest – that is a blog post in the writing. Facebook is, to me, now nought more than MSM fodder, twitter is becoming that, too.

OK, yes, Facebook, twitter and other social media do get a message across, picked up on CNN, BBC, ABC – Fox even. But does this mean that social media has lost its soul somewhat? To me it does.

My ‘IM’ goes on because both I and “The Wife” feel it is a matter of literal instant access to family and friends. I now ‘talk’ daily to my children in the UK through IM, I can see them, speak to them or just type. The thing, to me, is a god-send in that regard.

Isn’t it wonderful how IM can shorten those long distances, and in real time, too, Will? My family tend to go to Facebook, so I grit my teeth once a week or so and look there. Twitter is fun for me, though. One can write as little or as much as one wants, and link to blog posts for further erudition. πŸ™‚

[…] done a couple of blog posts on Second Life before, namely this one and this one. I won’t spend lots of blog time on it, but I do want to report that the world of Second Life […]

Heyy Muse..


okay say this letter “e” for more then 30 secs and see your face while doing so. and then tell me the result.


I’m quite cheery, actually, thank you, Makk. Your exercise is rather amusing.

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