I’m a reluctant IM user. Because my friends and clients use the medium, I’ve come to accept it as a necessary evil. I’m generally not keen on it, because its a pretty limited form of communication and often it can often be a distracting nuisance. Additionally, it seems to foster small talk, at which I suck.
I actually don’t mind the chat functionality when I want to talk–it’s indicating my interest in chatting which frustrates and baffles me.
Let me take a left turn for a minute, and describe a policy which Workspace, Vancouver’s shared office space, recently implemented. They’ve got little UN flags which you use to indicate whether you’re available to chat. From a Now Public article:
At the front of the space, overlooking a brilliant scene of Vancouver’s north shore mountains covered with the icing sugar of an overnight snowstorm, a bunch of red and green flags. “If you are open to networking you put a green flag out,” he said. Red means you’re on a VOIP call with angry investors, your PowerPoint is overdue, your blood-sugar level has put you out of the range of civility.
I remarked that you really only need the red flag–the green one just seems superfluous and overly eager. According to one Workspace user, the flags are hardly ever used.
The ‘flags’ in Skype are similarly limited. Here’s the reality of how I want to indicate my availability:
- I’m almost always available to talk to clients.
- I’m sometimes available to talk to friends. And, frankly, some more than others.
- I’m rarely, if ever, available to talk to strangers–people’s whose names I don’t recognize.
Unfortunately, those variables–almost always, sometimes, rarely–change on a daily basis with my busyness and mood. In short, I want to be sometimes available to some people some of the time, but I don’t want to have to micromanage Skype’s availability settings. Those settings are inadequate for this kind of granularity, but I don’t think it’s a technology problem anyway.
I’ve considered, for example, adding a note saying “Work only please” or something like that, but that’s actually inaccurate. I do, on occasion, want to chat over IM with my friends or colleagues on non-work matters.
When someone calls me on the phone, we instantly exchange a lot of information about the urgency of the call. The originating number, background noise, vocal tone and speed help us to deduce whether someone’s calling to chat or to rapidly discuss something.
There are no, or few such indicators in Skype. When someone pings me on IM and I’m too busy to talk, I have two unsavoury options: ignore them, or explain to them why I can’t talk. Because of the medium, often the latter case takes way too long.
In short, I fear I’m being rude to a bunch of people over IM by ignoring them, or being overly terse. When I pig somebody on IM, I try to open with “got a second?” I hope that gives them the out to say “nope”.
Am I over-thinking this? Am I just not down with those durned kids’ communcations medium?