The Lost Art of Instant Messaging

All throughout middle school, high school, and much of university, MSN Messenger was the place for me and my friends to socialize online (if you’re my age but grew up in America, chances are you can replace MSN with AIM). MSN was an instant messaging system. You had a contact list, online / away / busy / etc statuses (with custom status messages), and usually had one-to-one chats (although you could have multiple people, too).

You knew your friends were available to chat because they had their status indicated. An “online” status meant there was a good bet if you messaged them, you’d get a response rather quickly. “Away” meant they were logged in, but probably not at their computer. “Busy” meant they were present, but didn’t really want to be disturbed. These weren’t hard and fast rules (someone could appear to be any status, but still be present anyway, and vice versa), but you generally felt a sense of presence with your contacts. You at least knew what to expect, generally, when you messaged somebody.

These days, it seems like Instant Messaging, as a concept, has largely vanished. In its place we have things like iMessage and texting (I’ll admit, I don’t have a Facebook Messenger account. Do a lot of people use this?), but we lose a lot with them. Sure, iMessage means you can send a message whenever, but you also lose the feeling of presence you got with IM.

Because there’s no concept of “online” or “away” (etc), you have no idea if the other person is available to chat at the moment. Where IM chats often felt engaging while both people were online, iMessage “conversations” feel sporadic, like a slow trickle of words back and forth. Sure, sometimes you do have bouts of back and forth messaging with iMessage, but more often than not a message is a shot in the dark (consider how gauche it is to text somebody “brb” or “gtg"). The expectation is the conversation never really ends, but in fact, it never really starts, either.

And who knows, maybe this is just me. Maybe everybody uses Facebook Messenger, or maybe everyone else just has more engaging friends they text or iMessage. I use Google Chat and literally IM with two people ever, these days. But I really miss having nice long conversations with my friends.

What about you? Do you have engaging conversations over iMessage / texting? Does everyone just use Facebook Messenger (or another IM service)? Or is it really a lost art?

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