Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Instant messengers and daily contact

Academicgame has posted another very thoughtful piece on spousal hiring, an issue she(?) has discussed often. I wanted to thank her for linking to and commenting on my own job-related separation entry. Just as she found something interesting in my post, I've found something interesting in hers:

"We made gargantuan sacrifices to stay together, including career sacrifices and major changes in course -- both of us -- in order to keep our relationship going. I need daily contact with my spouse, and I want that."

I also need/want daily contact with my SO, but the funny thing is that upon reading AG's post my SO and I agreed, "but we had daily contact that was fulfilling ..." We did call and write e-mail to each other, but they weren't a good mechanism for maintaining daily contact because they took significant planning and chunks of uninterrupted time. Since we both use computers much of the day, what we used instead was instant messengers (IMs).

In thinking about it yesterday we realized that we can't recall a single day we were apart that we didn't IM each other (excluding trips to conferences and the like). IMs provided a vehicle for us to chat about daily events that we never would have mentioned in a phone call or letter. If we had 10 or 20 spare minutes at a computer we could quickly exchange a few words, be they support for an upcoming lecture, planning a visit, or dinner suggestions. One unique element of IMs was that we didn't need to dedicate exclusive time to the communication; we could be doing work on the computer yet continue a conversation for hours. It seems like no other communication vehicle could have allowed us this kind of freedom to communicate, and thus help us feel as though we were together.

I also use IMs in my teaching; I'm online on multiple services whenever I'm in my office, and encourage students to IM me. I've had a number of revealing conversations with students over IM; some students seem much more willing to open up and talk over that medium. I typically have more than 50 to 100 individual IM conversations with students in a semester, and even though most are mundane there are a few each semester where I think, "That couldn't have happened in person."

If I had the time I'd be interested to look up studies on IMs from a sociological perspective.

No comments: