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“Always Away” for plausible deniability

I’ve noticed this myself over the past few years. As more and more of my friends come online “all the time” and/or have connections at work, they leave their chat clients open and set to “Away”.

It has exactly its intended consequence. I don’t write them unless I have something I need to send them – something that is necessary but not formal enough for an email (strange concept, email being too formal – here I was thinking I was older/wiser now…). The other people (grouped at the top of my list in green) are “Available” and cognitively, to me, much more ready to receive a funny link or interesting news blurb.

Annalee Newitz writes:

More importantly, I can avoid unwanted chatter that interrupts my workflow. I do this by deploying a form of IM etiquette that I call “always away.” IM clients allow you to specify a status that gets displayed to other people using IM, and the defaults are things like “available” or “away.” I always set my status to “away,” sometimes adding a phrase like “working” or “fighting aliens.” Most of my colleagues do the same thing (except for the fighting aliens part). This allows me to have plausible deniability when I need to ignore a purely social message that interrupts my workflow. After all, I might really be gone. But I can respond when a colleague messages me about something important.

On the longer article at AlterNet – she opens with:

My social world is divided into two camps: people who use instant messaging and people who don’t. When I start my workday by booting up my computer, I consider myself to have arrived at the office when my IM program comes to life and is suddenly populated by dozens of tiny names and faces.

I find this interesting because it’s not wrong, but it’s not quite as nuanced as danah boyd’s point from two-and-a-half years ago about the culture divide in instant messaging:

To most of my friends, i appear always-on. If i’m not on the computer, my IMs usually go to my Sidekick. I have a round-the-clock presence on AIM, even if frequently idle. I share this round-the-clockness with some of my buddies – people who always appear to be on, although sometimes idle. There are other buddies who pop up whenever they’re on their computer (often 9-5). Then, there are those who pop up very occasionally.

The thing about members of this latter category is that they *always* want to talk when they come online. This makes sense – they’re appearing online only to talk, not to share presence. They are seeing IM as a communication tool first and foremost.

Interestingly, it is this group that complains the most about how they can never get anything done when IM is on. I try really hard not to respond in a snarky voice that i can never get anything done when they’re on. They get upset when i don’t have time to talk, arguing that i shouldn’t be online if i don’t want to talk.

There is, in fact, a culture divide in instant messaging.

So it seems that there are four groups?

  • Non-On’s,
  • Occasionally-On’s (drive-by IM) (attention snatchers),
  • work-related Usually-On’s (9-5), and
  • Always-On’s (presence broadcasters).

Do you see yourself in any of those four? Is the new medium creating new norms in your workplace? In your home workplace? Are you an attention snatcher and confused/upset when people don’t write you back? These questions are more mainstream than even a couple years ago. When everyone’s mobile phone has wifi – will we be more savvy about this stuff? Do you broadcast your presence at all?

Of course, none of these presence discussions would be complete without a link to this related phenomenon – the buddy pounce. Oh people hate that. :)

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