I’ve been replaced by a screen name

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A strange occurrence marked my weekend: An ex-boyfriend yelled at me. Huh. Weird. Still, this yelling was targeted at something I’ve been told for ages: My manners are less than par. No, this doesn’t mean that I am not polite, nor that I tend to chew with my mouth open. The manners in question are of a far more weighty matter: my instant-messenger manners.

The ex-boyfriend went as far as to say that if one could judge me on my IM skills alone, I would basically walk around all day with a cleverly encrypted message scratched onto a Post-It note (which would be glued to my forehead) and not talk to anyone. He is, of course, referring to the fact that my own personal IM style is one of constantly changing away messages, coupled with very little actual dialogue.

This comment got me thinking. Doesn’t it seem a bit wacky that online chat manners reflect personality flaws? And to what degree is the world of IM becoming the world of “I am?”

Let’s give a brief summary. Four Israeli computer nerds started the whole IM thing in 1996. They saw the need for the thousands of people connecting to the Internet to be able to connect to each other. Their first technology was called ICQ (“I seek you”-get it?! How remarkably clever!) and within six months, they had more than 850,000 users. AOL bought this miraculous technology in 1998 for a measly $287 million. Out popped AIM-complete with the incredible buddy list we’ve all grown to love, and the rest is virtually history.

We’re living in a society jam-packed with technological gizmos, taking many different guises-from Web tablets to interactive Net-based cell phones to MP3 players the size of an amino acid-the world of communication is being steamrolled at an astonishing pace. Naturally, it’s necessary to make room for technology in our lives, but is it really necessary for it to define us?

The profile is a means of describing yourself in 200 words or less, or attempting to piss off everyone you know by plugging in as many stupid inside jokes as possible. For example: “OMG Jen, last Friday…LOL, you know it, girlie!” As in, who is Jen, what did she do last Friday and why on earth did you think I would care? You’d accomplish more by telling me the chemical composition of Easy Cheese. I’m not going to even start on the abbreviations. Someone please buy me an IM dictionary so that someday I can hope to understand this typed nonsense: LOL. BRB. SMITH. OMG. TTFN. Does anyone actually speak like this?

I dare you to walk down the street and say something like “OMG, SMITH”(Oh my God, shoot me in the head). See if you make it through the day alive. This is a language unto itself, and while I am a willing participant, I cannot hope to completely fathom its implications, which inevitably has a tendency to throw me into a pit of self loathing. All of us chatterers, whether we’re more active in our typing or passive like myself (those of us who never actually talk to people but willingly put up witty away messages and regularly update our infos) will agree that we’d live much richer lives if we could just get off the damn Internet.

This IM addiction has spread like wildfire. AOL Time Warner’s competition includes MSN and Yahoo! though AIM is still No. 1 on the instant messenger scale. It’s so popular, in fact, that many businesses are coming to AOL to set up their own private messenger services. In 2000, Apple teamed up with AOL to create the Mac version, iChat.

My point: IM-ing is taking over the world and we are beginning to shape ourselves according to the skills and idiosyncrasies reflected by our online personalities. I don’t want to be judged as lacking in manners simply because I’m too lame to say goodbye to people on AIM. I’m just not that technologically courteous, and frankly, don’t care about the two-page long goodbye deal.

Still, this overhaul of our traditional communication values is happening, and it’s happening nearly unnoticed. Should we simply throw down our individualities in exchange for a permanent virtual persona? Shall we rewrite history with a computerized spin? Think about it: Descartes perhaps should have said, “I think, therefore IM.”

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