I don't. Not yet, at least.
But I can ignore a social force (when it has a technological nose cone) for only so long, and it's been quite a few years now that instant messaging has been around. For all that time, I've been like the telephone user who could never understand what email was about: why write when you can call? For me, IM lay in the middle, equidistant betwen email and the telephone, and I couldn't see the charm of the middle when the extremes were available.
〈parenthesis〉 This has often been my problem, this caroming between poles. Call it "nadirub," which is sort of the opposite of Buridan and his problem, or, rather the fabled problem of Buridan's ass, who got stuck in the middle: positioned equidistant between two bales of hay, the poor beast couldn't decide which one to eat and so starved to death. Nadirub may be wearing off as I age. No promises, though. "〈/parenthesis〉
But IM continues to grow and develop. And I've decided it's time to see what all the fuss is about.
If you're like me and a tyro in this middle way, you might find Wikipedia on IM a good place to start, because when I began a few days ago I had no idea of how one went about communicating with another person using these devices. Was there one overarching modality and a series of manifestations of it, making it like telephoning, where we all use the same phone lines but you use Primus, and she uses Sprint?
〈parenthesis〉Don't you find it interesting and odd that one can be adept at one technology — I can do html and css and I can fake a whole bunch of other things — and yet be a complete dunce at others? Means to me that the notion of information technology itself is now simply too vast to be meaningful; we must speak in smaller terms.〈/parenthesis〉
It turns out that the phone analogy is quite wrong. One standard hasn't dominated yet, and there is a number of services each having its own protocol. In no particular order: Windows Live Messenger, AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Skype, Google Talk, .NET Messenger Service, Jabber, QQ, iChat, ICQ, and Sametime.
So how do you talk to Person A and Person B if each uses a different service and neither uses yours? Well, basically you have to get an account in the services A and B use as well. Too many icons on the desktop? 〈parenthesis style="short"〉You do use your desktop, don't you?〈/parenthesis〉 Well, the thing to do it seems is to get yourself a "multiprotocol instant messaging application." You can inform this handy app of all of your accounts in the various services, and it will offer you a single interface with which to use them… more or less. The popular ones seem to be Gaim, Trillian, and Adium. (The first is multi-platform — there is Linux, remember? — the second Windows and the third Mac only for the time being.)
Why, you may ask yourself, in a week where we've been talking about information overload and techno-straction, would you want to knock another brick out of the rapidly crumbling wall of peace that you hide behind? Good question. Me, I'm a tad garrulous, in case you hadn't noticed; and even if I weren't, I need to know what's going on in the internet, whether I like it or not. But that's me. What about you? Well, IM isn't just about text messages. It's about the struggle to enable you to have a conference with one or many of your colleagues around the world or in the office next door, and to let you exchange your thoughts in voice, text, whiteboard, video, files, and control of your desktop. This is useful. And for the moment it's free, more useful still.
But it starts with learning how to… type messages in realtime, as it's called now. And that means learning how to use one or all of the welter of IM tools. Soon.