Friday, December 08, 2006

The IM divide

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.


Unknown said...

And you have to consider the health issues -- I was just reading about "Blackberry Thumb" a few days ago.

It's got to be tough for people who learned personal typing in high school to make the transition to typing everything with a thumb... Maybe that helps define the divide.

amom said...

My 72-year old parents have been computer literate for years. They live on the east coast and we live on the west coast. A couple of years ago we started using Yahoo Messenger to IM each other. Earlier this year we added microphones and use IM with voice, and we also each have webcams. It's wonderful. My parents can chat with my kids and see them grow, and we talk almost daily. My sister lives in the same town as my parents but doesn't use IM. She says that I know more about what is going on with them than she does!

I do agree about the homework/IM situation. My 13-year old daughter sits at her desk doing homework while carrying on an IM conversation. It's difficult to sort out just how much homework is being done vs. "chatting"!

Anonymous said...

Students staying up at night are probably spending, nay, wasting, more time on facebook than on IM. I mean, I'm guessing that's what they do.

Gruntled said...

IM with camera is more like an upgrade of the telephone. Purely typing, on the other hand, seems to me a downgrade.

As to Facebook vs. IM, you could well be right -- though how one makes conversation through Facebook is more than I have mastered.