More on IM-related Pew study

Instead of reading news first in something like InformationWeek, it’s a nice change to “report” on something before bigger media does–and I’m certainly not a media outlet of any kind. However, this personal enjoyment isn’t why I posting here.

InformationWeek quoted Pew researcher Mary Madden as follows: “[Teenagers] see email as much more formal, similar to how adults would see written letters: a quaint way of communicating with older relatives or for formal communications.”

What bothers me about this statement isn’t that it’s necessarily inaccurate but rather what its impartial reflection effectively means with respect to communication excellence and effective conveying non-trivial thoughts, ideas and beliefs. Are we now at the stage of IM capturing it all?

It’s true that I basically send email now and don’t write letters, which I wrote regularly up to the point that my wife (then serious girlfriend) moved to the Bay Area. However, I use email to convey the same reasoned thought that I would otherwise have penned to paper. (And I use the delay rule technique in Outlook just in case my efficiency on the keyboard gets me in trouble where writing with pen would slow me up enough to prevent poor or ill writing “just in time.”) Hand-written notes and cards are still the best way to convey certain sentiments. I enjoy receiving these as well. So, I don’t view written letters as quaint but rather a luxury I’m hard pressed to find time for making general practice. I enjoy written communication, and email is the medium I regularly choose–when I’m not posting here.

Now it’s true that a fair number of emails I receive are nothing more than single sentence directions or confirmations. In these cases, IM and email amount to a simple difference in medium. However, attempt to leverage IM for something that amounts to a paragraph or more in email and be prepared to irritate or otherwise loose your recipient–“cya l8r!”

Written personal letters are meant to read more than once over time. Emails can be saved for the same purpose, but often aren’t due to reduced time to create a new response and receive a new reply. The dialog goes back and forth more rapidly in email than today’s USPS can facilitate via regular mail. Plus mailboxes are mostly for bills (if you’re not into electronic bill payment) and junk mail. Of course, one’s email inbox probably has just as much if not more of the latter these days–and spam isn’t yet prevalent in IM.

So, I come back to my previous comment about IM: the need to facilitate conversational recall in this medium. Trillian does this, but it’s not pervasive. If the younger generation is already “there,” software should be supporting them–us all–in ways that keep IM relevant, informal and current. Otherwise, IM is bound to be replaced with something yet to be unleashed.

“There’s a sense of needing to always stay connected and having this persistence online,” Madden said. “Even if friends don’t IM each other everyday, they still know each is OK and around because they’re logged in.”

This statement supports and clarifies my previous comment about conversation roundtrip speed. The more connected two parties are the less need there may be for volume or formality in conversational content.