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College Comment
Instant Procrastination

Lyss, let’s take a study break.

Sure, I’ll just write this paper later.

There you have it. The single greatest distraction at Yale: America Online Instant Messenger. For those not familiar with this addictive program, Instant Messenger—known as “IM” by its devotees—allows direct communication over the computer for anyone who has downloaded the free program. Using aliases like “Yalie02” or “Rockstar81,” people talk to each other all day and night with this program. Giving out phone numbers to prospective suitors is so outdated—I just want your screen name.


AOL Instant Messenger is like e-mail on amphetamines.

IM is like e-mail on amphetamines. Unlike e-mail, IM messages pop up no matter what program you’re usiing. Response time is faster than with e-mail, which takes a few minutes to show up in your in box. Even my roommate and I use IM because we’ve grown too lazy to speak aloud.

When I’m not plugged in to IM, I feel out of touch with the world, especially when I hear my roommate chuckling over some conversation she’s having online. So I keep Instant Messenger on all the time, even during exams. But as I try to create a study guide or bang out a 20-page paper, each time that tempting blue box pops up on my screen with a message, I get sidetracked and end up conversing for an hour.

One way to get around the problem is something called an “away message,” which allows you be online for all to see, but with a short note next to your name explaining why this isn’t a good time for you to chat. But the “away message” can also be used as a kind of billboard for jokes (“Why am I so good looking? If anyone knows, drop me a note,”) or appeals for help (“Writing a 15-page paper. Does anyone know anything about Dante?”). A simple “I’m unavailable, please leave a message,” does not suffice at Yale, where the competition to be smart, creative, and witty is fierce.

Instant Messenger is also a place for major miscommunication. Sure, IM gives you tools to help a person convey the appropriate tone when speaking over the computer—there are nine different variants on the smiley face you can use in the text box. So, if you want to say, “I’m really hurt by what you did,” you can stick a smiley face with its tongue stuck out next to those words. Or, for online flirting, you can use the winking smiley. But I’ve had unintended online arguments with friends and, in one case, a breakup with a boyfriend.

Somehow the written word, when typed at a rate of 100 words per minute, cannot replace a live conversation. But unless Yalies get a little less lazy, I think IM is here to stay.  the end


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