Instant Messaging from the teenage perspective

Danah Boyd is an anthropologist who researches the cultural implications of social software, and like the great anthropologists, she lives with her subjects (the early adopters) as one of them.

These early adopters are mainly teenagers, and I’ve often found Danah’s writing
to provide insight into the way they perceive technology. We adults have a bad habit of trying to understand new technology by analogy with what’s already familiar; for example treating a computer as a fancy typewriter. Kids typically start from scratch and develop new paradigms.

Danah’s latest monologue is on the subject of the cultural divide in instant messaging (IM). IM users, she says, fall into two categories, the ‘always ons’ and the ‘occasionals’. Occasionals are the bad guys.

The thing about members of this latter category is that they *always* want to talk when they come online. This makes sense – they’re appearing online only to talk, not to share presence. They are seeing IM as a communication tool first and foremost.

Yes, that’s right, you thought IM was for communciation. Oh dear, you really are too old. The real reason:

As someone who is always on, i spend a small fraction of the day using IM. It is always on because of presence [my emphasis].

Presence, as in being seen to be there. If any analogy is to be drawn, it’s the traditional role of the village church. If you’re not seen to be there, you’re simply not part of the community.

If you’re thinking of experimenting with IM as an educational tool (and you should be), then it’s well worth reading the whole post.

And if you want to chat about it, you’ll find me present at the following IM addresses

  • Jabber:
  • ICQ: 198294569
  • MSN: iangs1

Response from MirandaIM: extolling the virtues – what about the other side?

With reference to personal use of IM (I would argue slightly differently for business use) – How little people appear to rate intonation, inflection, body language and the eyes when discussing the merits of IM as a communication tool. Not for nothing are the eyes the ‘window to the soul’ and so much is missed through the imbalance of the senses when using IM.

I am cynical about the ‘presence’ theory that suggests that it is for others’ benefit. I would suggest there is a much more egotistical streak involved, certainly with most youngsters.

Anyone blogged the dangers of IM? – miscommunication and isolation are two biggies. What about bullying?


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