The Pros and Cons of Instant Messaging

I first experienced Instant Messaging (IM) way back in 1985 at the Educational Computer Corporation. This company I worked for purchased an IBM PDP-11 mainframe computer. Computer people were all given keyboards and monitors in their offices wired to the mainframe. Soon everyone learned about the new instant messaging capability! You could type text to someone and send it to their monitor. They would here a bell sound and up would pop the message. They could then message you back. Nobody used it to increase work productivity — instead it became a fun distraction.

The next time I came across IM was on CompuServe in 1996. I was uploading our magazine in a forum bulletin board when a window popped up with someone saying, "Hello." I was a bit surprised by this uninvited guest but did answer. At this time online access was limited. So I told the person I had work to do and couldn’t afford to just "chat."

Around this time a free instant messaging program named ICQ was developed by a company started by four Israeli programmers. With ICQ, IM exploded on the Internet. IM allowed people to know their friends were online and to set up live private chats with them. The Israeli company was bought by AOL in 1998.

Brother Mark here used AOL’s AIM extensively before joining our community. So I asked him about the difficulties he experienced with it.

"In most IM programs there is a shut off feature which allows you to block all IMs or just IMs from certain people. I had an online Ebay business. Trying to run a business online while others are trying to talk to you can be a little nerve wracking. But if you block your friends (and they find out you are online at the same time but that you’ve shut off your IM feature) sometimes there can be hurt feelings all around when one of them feels slighted that you won’t give them your instant attention.

"That leads me to another negative aspect of IMs in that computer users tend to confuse immediacy with intimacy. When I came to the monastery I looked at my buddy list and wondered how I would explain to literally about 150 people how and why I made the decision to become a monk. It may surprise some people that although I talked to most of these people on a daily basis and knew their kid’s names and wedding anniversaries etc, only one even bothered to write back to me to wish me luck and ask for prayers!

"IMs are a breeding ground for, shall we say, the ‘less than desirable type.’ While blocking IMs works in some instances, it does not work in others. For example, a person can surf profiles and find out whether or not you are online. Even if your IMs are turned off, this person can find out if you are in a chat room and then come in that room to send you a message. They can also decide to e-mail you things you’d rather not be exposed to.

When you are talking to someone by IM and they are in an AOL chat room, your e-mail address can be harvested for advertising because you are connected to them by IM."

Brother Mark’s experience was with AOL’s AIM, which is even available to non-AOL users at aol.com/aim/home.html. However, there are other IM’s out there like Microsoft’s MSN Messenger at http://messenger.msn.com, and Yahoo! Messenger at http://messenger.yahoo.com. Given the competition between MSN and AOL, if you already have AIM and then install MSN Messenger, it will make itself the default IM automatically instead of AIM. And with Windows XP, MSN Messenger automatically opens every time Outlook Express is opened. It seems Microsoft may be flexing its muscles to dominate IM.

IM has moved beyond simple text chat. MSN Messenger advertises the ability to have audio and video conversations, hold online meetings, play online collaborative games and share programs installed on your computer. Of course, some of these features do not work so well on low bandwidth connections like a dialup modem.

With the rise of e-mail viruses, some people are turning to IM for a safer communication’s medium. IM viruses are currently relatively low. However, according to Christopher Saunders, the managing editor of InstantMessagePlanet.com, the consumer grade variety of IM is widely known to have a myriad of security holes — and people are taking advantage of it. The first half of this year saw a 400% rise over the previous year of IM virus threats, according to Symantec Corporation. IM software also can open the door to remote-control of your computer by hackers, in connection with chat rooms. Fortunately, Anti-virus programs are being expanded to look at IM as another method of virus delivery.

Tired of spam? How about turning to IM? Spam is slowly making its way into this medium. However, one can keep it off their IM, for now, by only accept messages from people in their contact lists.

If you are a current IM user and want to safeguard against viruses, hackers and spam Zone Labs at zonelabs.com IMsecure software. There is a free version and a fully functional version. The latter comes with 1 year of updates and support for $19.95.

I can see the potential of IM for communication among people and even for businesses. Research and Markets Ltd. predicts that by 2007 there will be 1,439 million IM accounts worldwide, of which 1,090 are for consumer use only, and 349 million are corporate accounts. At present the largest age group of users are 12 to 19 year olds (34%) and the second largest 20 to 29 year olds (28%).

Now I have resisted getting involved with IM. Email is still fast enough for me. I would never get any work done, like this article, with IMs popping up continually. There are people who multitask very well. I leave the IM to them.

This month I would like to give a sampling Catholic professional associations online.

The Catholic Medical Association at cathmed.org is a place where Catholic physicians can come together from the United States and Canada to grow in the spirit of Christ in their personal and professional lives, to bring His Spirit to all that is touched by their science and art, and to assist the Vicar of Christ, the Bishops, and the whole Christian community with leadership, especially with the particular knowledge, skill, and experience they have as Christian Physicians. Some parts of the website are still under construction. Hopefully the "Physician Directory" will be up soon so others can find good Catholic physicians.

The American Catholic Lawyers Association at americancatholiclawyers.org was founded in 1990 and is a non-profit religious organization dedicated to the defense of the Faith and the rights of Catholics in America. Attorneys can join their volunteer network and people can contact them for legal representation.

The Catholic Association of Musicians at cammusic.com was founded in 1996 and is an association of Catholic musicians, and their support organizations, who produce new inspirational and exciting music for, and from, the Catholic Church of today's world.

SIGNIS, a World Catholic Association for Communication at signis.net was formed in 2001and forms a vast network of communication professionals. They are officially recognized by the Vatican as a Catholic organization for communication.

The National Catholic Education Association at ncea.org began in 1904 and NCEA is a voluntary association of educators and institutions. They are based in Washington DC.

If you are a professional you may want to use a search engine to find a Catholic Association in your field of expertise. Or perhaps if you can’t find one, you should start one!

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org