Instant Messaging Has No Rules -- So Follow Your Own

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Have you covered IM etiquette? How many times can you IM someone with no response before you need to leave them alone? When is it okay to IM someone who has the "busy" flag up? Also, I have people who yell at me for leaving my GChat status the same for too long. I want to know who is in the wrong, and I need an expert to weigh in.

~IM Lost

People yell at you for not changing your GChat status? Who are these snotweasels you chat with and why the fuck do they care what 2.5 words you put under your name? Just tell them that. You're welcome.

IM, aka instant messaging, is one of the most Wild West-y social platforms, especially since GChat came on the scene in 2005. Everyone sort of makes up their own rules and expects people to conform to whatever it is they themselves do. Therefore, alas!, there aren't any real answers. Just like The Matrix or Republican primary debates.*

For further proof, witness this conversation I had today about whether I really liked my friend's new dresser:

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As Laura Goode over at The Faster Times put it, speaking of the GChat dot options (green = available, yellow = idle, red = busy, gray = invisible): "[O]ur Cycloptic green, red, yellow, and gray eyes may communicate more about us than our chats themselves, yet they can be surprisingly difficult to interpret. They don't actually convey a code of propriety -- a clear invitation or prohibition -- to another chatter."

Indeed they don't. GChat defaults you to available whenever you log in to your Gmail account. If you happen to be like most working stiffs, you probably keep your inbox open all or most of the day, and you consequently may appear "always ready to chat" even if you're not. Because the colored dots don't mean a lot to most people, there isn't a definitive rule book for when one is being obnoxious. Some people are green even when they're in a meeting or driving their cars. Some people are invisible, but they chat you anyway. The "busy" status is perhaps the most meddlesome. In theory, people wouldn't chat you when your dot were red, because red is the universal color of Nuh-Uh. If you ignore this and chat someone anyway, Gmail scolds you: "Bitch, can't you see So-and-So is busy? You may be interrupting." Fine, Gmail might use fewer expletives, but you catch my drift. Yet common sense tells us that if So-and-So were actually busy, then the person would be invisible, and therefore unavailable to chat friends online. That said, it's always polite to ask someone with a red dot whether you are, in fact, interrupting them, so that you may continue, guilt-free and unabated, your important virtual conversation about how Dylan from 90210 made the poncho cool again in the '90s.

*For no real reason except that the Internet exists, please enjoy Bad Lip Reading with Herman Cain. Big potato moths!


Social-media mistress Anna Pulley likes to give advice about how to play well with others on the internets. If you have a question about etiquette involving technology, shoot her a question at AskAnnaSF@gmail.com. 

Follow us on Twitter: @annapulley and @ExhibitionistSF or Facebook
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