Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I Need A Message this Instant!!

The transformation from actual to virtual interaction between people started subtly in the 90's. The ‘computer geeks’ were the first people to start using chat-rooms and sharing each other’s files, but it didn’t take long for others to catch on. Now, it’s hard to imagine that the introduction of the Internet for home use happened just a little over 10 years ago. Today, it seems like everyone is a computer geek.

If you want proof that the internet has changed our lives, look at the way it’s infiltrated everyday vocabulary. It’s not uncommon to tell friends we’ll “MSN” them later, and if we want to find information about someone or something, we just “google” it. Instant messaging has changed the way people communicate, build relationships, and stay in touch with the one another. For those who are less inclined to go out, they get the upper hand in the social scene because it’s easy to update their friends on gossip, exchange files, or share pictures with another person anywhere in the world, provided they have a computer.

A famous Canadian once said that “the medium is the message”. (McLuhan, 7) He was Marshall McLuhan, and considering that he died long before computers were small enough to fit into one room, his statements were prophetic. The meaning of the statement has been widely argued. It applies to instant messaging though because we have a new social space: the internet. What we communicate through it, and how it is communicated, influences what the content is, and that is the message. To take another one of his terms, since the internet is effectively collapsing the space connecting the “global village” to the point where there is no real space, but only ‘cyberspace’, everyone in it is immediately accessible, without having to travel anywhere.

Everyone knows what MSN is. For those we haven’t met, and even for those we may see on a daily basis, MSN works as a 24/7 locating service that allows you to see the status of the person you are looking for, whether “online” “offline” or possibly just “out to lunch”. Instant messaging has even changed the process of democracy. People can reply to radio shows and express their opinions about politics or vote for their Canadian Idol candidate via text messaging. For many, MSN automatically signs in for them as soon as they sit down to the computer. And if you are the type of person that uses it, not going online for a few days might arouse suspicion in others that something has happened to you.

For some, talking to people over the Internet just seems shallow or insincere. You can’t see the other person, so how can you judge how they feel or even if they are who they say they are? And since it’s not face-to-face it can often mask intended sarcasm or change the meaning of the message on the other end of the wire. It’s easy to say one thing and have it ending up meaning something else. Therefore, the intended message is not the message, the medium is. This is why dating someone you’ve never met in real life can sometimes be a big mistake. Ontario schools have had to launch a campaign to teach children how to identify someone who is trying to lure them over the Internet so that they can avoid the situation.

Others claim that being on MSN is addictive, and since the bright computer screen keep us awake, insomnia abounds. But there are lots of benefits to instant messaging. It serves Canadians well, since we have great distances separating us that couldn’t otherwise be overcome, except with the simple click of a mouse.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man New York: McGraw Hill, 1964.


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11:45 a.m.  

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