How important is Instant Messenger to you?
Chances are, if you asked a young adult between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five
that question, you would receive an answer like, "It ranks right below the need
for food and water." Online communication, specifically instant messaging, has
become an essential element to most college students' social lives. Whether making
dinner plans, finding out what is going on next weekend, or keeping in touch with
friends from home, college students use instant messaging as the primary way to
communicate with one another.
None of this is breaking news. Instant messenger has been around for years. Yet
a new phenomenon has developed in terms of Instant Messenger usage. What has always
been advertised as a way of communicating with friends and family is now being
promoted as a tool for dating. Websites like Love.com are working to encourage
the use of Instant Messenger in relationships, specifically during the first stages
of dating. Love.com partners with AOL Instant Messenger as a personals website.
It allows people to talk to one another through e-mail and instant messaging.
It boasts of its easy, three-step process:
Love.com and other online dating websites utilize instant messaging as a tool
for meeting possible mates without needing to reveal your true identity before
you feel comfortable. However, before you go signing up to make an "instant connection"
with your soul-mate, read below to decide if instant messaging is going to cause
you joy or pain.
- Sign in using your AIM or AOL Screen Name and password. (If someone does
not have a Screen Name or wants to make a new one specifically for love.com,
a link is provided to create a name through AIM for free.)
- Once you sign in using your AIM or AOL Screen Name, you will be automatically
signed into love.com.
- Make an instant connection with other love.com members.
Have you ever been at a party and been attracted to someone, but been too nervous
to go over and introduce yourself? Do you have trouble making eye contact when
first meeting someone? Does your face turn the color of Dorothy's ruby slippers
when you are trying to talk to someone you are interested in? For those who are
too shy to talk face-to-face with strangers, Instant Messenger provides you with
a way of breaking the ice with someone without the worry of physical interaction.
Remember that scene in Dirty Dancing when Baby first meets Johnny and all she
can manage to blurt out is "I carried a watermelon?" If similar comments seem
to stutter out of your mouth when you first meet someone, IMing may be for you.
For those who continuously manage to say the wrong thing, Instant Messenger provides
you with time to properly type exactly what you want to say rather than blurting
something out. The ability to respond not-so-instantly with Instant Messenger
helps many to avoid stumbling over their words, letting them eloquently state
exactly what they want, with the option of checking for grammar and spelling before
You know you've done it. You're on a first date from hell when you excuse yourself
and go to the bathroom. Five minutes after you return, you receive an "emergency
phone call" about your sick dog.
the case when a first date isn't going well, normally you have to feign illness
or get an emergency phone call from your best friend in order to skip out early.
However, when primary interaction is done over the World Wide Web, you can easily
escape the disaster of a non-compatible match with the mere click of the X-button
in the upper right-hand corner of the window and the option of blocking that person
from contacting you again. In addition, IM allows you to let down the other person
gently, without having to deal with the awkwardness of in-person brush-offs.
Ever heard someone say that alcohol is the greatest truth serum? If you want an
honest opinion, talk to someone when he/she is drunk. Or just talk to them online.
"I think instant messaging is like being drunk," said Jim, a 21 year-old college
student. "You are more likely to say what you are feeling no matter how the other
person is going to be affected."
The comparison between Instant Messenger and alcohol may be a bit of a stretch,
but it helps to show one of the advantages of using Instant Messenger. Honesty
is always listed as being one of the most important traits in a mate. Instant
messaging allows you to be more honest about your emotions, your desires and your
problems. For beginning relationships, this helps you to be more open about your
interest in someone. As the twenty-first century equivalent to a letter, IMs let
people express themselves better because they don't have to worry about seeing
the other person's reaction.
So you've found that special someone but are too scared to tell them how you feel,
even through instant messaging? AOL Instant Messenger has the solution. Profiles
have become the newest form of declaring your love for your significant other.
Similar to class rings and varsity jackets in our parents' generation, today you
need only check the profile of young adults to determine who they are dating,
what they think about the relationship, and how much they love their boyfriend/girlfriend.
You meet someone and exchange screen names. You talk every single night online
and have very deep and meaningful conversations. Yet when you get together in
person, you both stare at each other speechless. The problem is that some people
use Instant Messenger as the primary means of communicating with others. If you
cannot carry on a real conversation with the person when you are face-to-face,
chances are that the relationship is not going to last. If, when you dream about
your wedding, you imagine the flowers, the dresses, the music, and the "his and
her" laptop computers to type your vows to one another, you have become too dependent
on IMs. Instant Messenger should be used as a tool for dating, not as the only
means of communication between two people.
Despite what polite people may say, looks do matter. I'm not saying that every
girl has to look like Halle Berry and every guy has to look like Brad Pitt, but
every person has some standards and requirements for their possible mate. Physical
attraction is extremely important to a romantic relationship. While AOL Instant
Messenger has worked in the past few years to improve its viability as a dating
resource through the addition of profiles and the ability to send photos through
file sharing, online dating still does not create that certain spark in a relationship.
Let's face it; some people are not computer savvy. A highly intelligent and fun-spirited
mate may appear as a real bore over Instant Messenger. Online chatting does not
always help you gain insight into a possible mate's personality and humor. On
the flip side, some people may be extremely humorous and charming when they have
the time to think about their responses, but in real time can't piece together
a coherent sentence in twenty minutes.
You've heard the standard story: Boy meets girl online. Boy likes girl. Boy plans
life around girl. Boy finds out girl is twenty years older than she says and is
in a state penitentiary in Hicksville, Idaho for charges of manslaughter. Sure,
the person you are talking to online may seem like your soul-mate now, but when
you step out of the virtual and into reality, it may be a different story. It
is often easier and quicker to determine a person's credibility when meeting face-to-face.
By no means am I endorsing rushing into meeting face-to-face with someone you
met online, as that can be extremely dangerous. All I'm encouraging is not picking
out china patterns until you are sure you really know who this person is.
When the going gets tough, the tough get online. For beginning relationships,
Instant Messaging allows people to innocently flirt with one another, give one's
honest opinion, and ask awkward questions while still learning to feel comfortable
around one another.
However, once a relationship has moved beyond those first stages, Instant Messaging
takes on an additional role. Specifically, when big issues or arguments occur,
couples nowadays run to their individual keyboards to discuss the health of their
relationship. Tone, voice inflection, and emotions can not be reflected in IMs,
no matter how many foot-in-the-mouth smiley faces you send. Misunderstandings
and misinterpretations cause further issues. The need to focus twenty-minutes
of instant messaging time on what word in the sentence you were placing the emphasis
on takes away from the original issue at hand. What often results is the need
to communicate by other means, because either clarification needs to be made about
what someone meant when they sent an IM or someone has become so angry that they've
done the unthinkable and (gasp) signed off Instant Messenger.
What would lovers do without Instant Messenger? What would happen if instant messaging
was outlawed as a form of communication between couples? They might actually have
to start spending quality time together, face-to-face. They might actually have
to have a meaningful conversation without the use of a send button. They might
actually have to refer to one another by their real names, instead of screen names.
Kelly Loftus is originally from Rockaway, New Jersey and
is currently a junior at The College of New Jersey. She is a History Major with
a double minor in U.S. Studies and Professional Writing.