The Associated Press and America Online have just released a survey of the generational divide in Instant Messaging (IMing) vs. emailing. Among the millions of Americans who use both, 3/4ths of adults email more than they IM; among teenagers, the reverse is true.
I can confirm that statistic in the Gruntled Family: our three under-20s use instant messaging as the main way they communicate with friends, sending dozens, if not hundreds, daily. Mrs. G. and I, on the other hand, send dozens of emails daily. My kids are probably among the 30% of teenagers who say they couldn't imagine life without IM. I used it once, and found it too cumbersome to repeat. IM seems to me to be the worst of both worlds – the expressive limitations of print, combined with the dead air and conversational filler of the telephone.
When I was facing the prospect of a house with two teenage girls, I thought I might never see my telephone. Technology has avoided this problem altogether. Between cell phones and IM, as well as the happy legal invention of the "no-call" list, our house phone is suffering from neglect.
My colleagues and I have noticed more students this year who have great trouble functioning in the morning, or even getting up for, say, my 8 o'clock class. Our best guess is that they routinely spend hours after midnight online. Some of that is spent doing homework. But at the same time, they are carrying on multiple IM conversations with groups of friends.
So I say to all IMing teens and college students: ease up on the IM circles, and let each other do homework and get some sleep.