Locative Lab

researching locative media

The 7 deadly sins of instant messaging

I heart instant messaging, but I heart it too much. If you’re a chat addict like me, you understand the lure. It’s convenient, connecting you to faraway buddies with little cost. It’s safe, releasing you from the worry of looking pretty or sounding sexy. And its deliciously fun. How can you not love video effects, screensharing, and presentation-hosting in Leopard’s iChat?

Despite the benefits, instant messaging can turn you into a mindless chat drone. Too much chatting replaces real interactions and, soon, people turn into pixels.

To bring richer conversations back into your life, here are 7 bad chatting habits to stop right now. I’ve formatted them as a “not-to-do” list:

  1. Do not use it

    It’s hard to envision, but life without IM is possible. Remember the phone? Remember face-to-face conversations? They still exist.

  2. Do not make yourself available 24/7

    If you really can’t let go of chat, designate IM office hours. Limit yourself to two hours maximum a day and give yourself a curfew. You’ll get fewer interruptions and maybe even get to bed earlier. Remember, not chatting every moment means you’ll have more to talk about when you see your friends again.

  3. Do not expect a response

    After sending someone an IM, never expect a quick response or any at all. The beauty of IM is that it lets you have “slow conversations,” allowing people to respond whenever they want.

  4. Do not send urgent requests

    Just because someone is online at 2am doesn’t mean that person is available for a work or family emergency. If you’re not willing to make a phone call, then maybe it’s not a real emergency.

  5. Do not be a buddy slut

    Is your buddy list as long as Heidi Fleiss’s black book? According to the Pareto principle, you spend 80 percent of your chat time with 20 percent of your buddies. Identify the buddies you don’t chat with anymore and delete them. If your buddy list is still overflowing, organize them into groups by level of importance or frequency of conversations.

  6. Do not broadcast your screen name

    Never ever put your screen name on a website, blog, or social networking profile. This keeps your buddy list short and prevents stalkers from creeping you out.

  7. Do not forward chat messages to your phone

    AOL Instant Messenger now lets you forward IM messages you receive to your phone when you’re not at a computer. I call this the electronic dog leash feature. If you have it on, turn it off now. Free yourself, run wild, and go play.

Am I missing other deadly sins? What terrible chat habits are you overcoming?


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Cityscape LocativeLab.org is Ronald Lenz's research website on locative & mobile media. This is mostly an archive of blogposts I find inspiring and interesting and an overview of my work. I'm a strategist, technologist and researcher in the field of Location-Based Mobile Services and work at Waag Society, a medialab in Amsterdam, The Netherlands where I head the Locative Media research program and at 7scenes, a platform for GPS games and tours as creative director. Picture 4 Find me at Twitter, LinkedIn or via ronald [at] waag [dot] org.

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