Instant Messaging and the Introvert


It took me a while to like instant messenger. As an introvert, I despise the phone unless I am talking to someone whose voice I really want to hear, so I love email. Email offers a wonderful moment to think, even if I click Reply almost instantly. I find it much easier to answer in text than verbally, and I think most introverts are with me on that. However, about ten years ago friends started asking me if I was on instant messenger. At first I had this terrible vision of having to sit by the computer all evening while we sent messages back and forth, so I said no. No way.

Soon we all got IM accounts in the office though, and I added all my fellow IT guys to my contacts. I loved being able to quietly IM the guy across the aisle from me when something funny happened or just to talk anytime we wanted. It was still instant messenger to me though, so I hated it the day some of my company’s IT people in another city added me to their contacts. Now I would have to instantly answer all of their questions instead of having the merciful delay that email offers? Hated it. I thought I had to answer immediately anytime someone could see that I was there. I’d be trying to think and there it would be, that jarring sound and flashing window, flashing until I do something about it.

But for one thing, we are not required to let it show that we are really there, are we? I have one friend who always appears “Available.” He may be totally gone – on an errand, asleep, anything, but he is “Available” 24/7 and may or may not respond. Likewise I have another friend who is always “Away” and still another who is always “Busy.” Both of them enjoy the fact that no one sees them become “Available” and start hammering them with messages. They have the buffer zone we introverts need so much. I currently let my own status show to everyone, because I have finally discovered a secret no one tells nice introverts: Just because someone IMs you doesn’t mean you have to answer them immediately (or at all).

I’ve been in another city at an all day meeting, and at the end of the day we all still had messages waiting for us, but what did we do? We turned off our laptops and went to dinner! I’ve been in my own office about to reply to a message but my boss came and talked for a while then maybe we went to another room. So what happened? I did not reply to the message until much later. No one got mad at me and the world did not end. So now, I definitely use IM, and I don’t feel stress when someone IMs me. I’d much rather they do that than to have it escalate to a phone call or worse still, the energy-draining walk-up. You may hate IM as an interruption, and I know a lot of introverts do, but I wanted to share with you how the introverts I know manage those interruptions by either not showing their status or simply not worrying about it if they do get a message. It’s not as instant as a phone call, so like anything else that gives me a little time before I have to respond, I’m all for it.

Nowadays I actually keep in touch with former coworkers by keeping them in my IM contacts. When one of us sees a link we want to show the other, or when we just want to tell the other person something, there’s so much less barrier to sending a quick instant message than to composing a full email. I think that’s how I’ve remained in such good contact with a wide variety of people. And remember, I got my current job by talking on instant messenger to the guy who would once again become my boss.

What’s your preferred method of communication? Do you like or hate instant messenger? Of course we are going to have to talk about Twitter and Facebook soon!

Photo credit: thomcochrane



  1. I never could get into IM’s, but I definitly prefer it to text messaging on a cell phone. My bad jokes don’t always translate well, and I can’t get into the internet language.

    IM’s do have the advantage of short responses without having to commit to an e-mail. By the way, mine always says away.

    • Oh yes. I don’t want any texts OR calls on my cell phone unless it NEEDS to be immediate such as, “are you here yet” if I’m meeting someone somewhere. Bad jokes do better when we have some emoticons anyway! πŸ™‚

  2. I’m not really into IM, although I usually respond when I’m on the computer and someone IM/chats with me on Facebook or in G-mail… but I *never* look to see who’s online to chat, it never even occurs to me! I have my Yahoo mail status hidden (always unavailable) because I have waaaaay too many contacts and I don’t want anyone knowing when I’m online. My G-mail is mainly for family and business and has a lot less contacts, so I haven’t bothered to figure out how to be “hidden” on there. πŸ™‚ I would much rather e-mail or text-message… and I don’t even mind phone calls, actually! But my real nemesis is the video chat… OH LORD. I didn’t even set up video chat when my husband lived on a different continent for a year!! No way will I video chat!

    • πŸ™‚ I have actually had to get used to video chat lately because we have a lot of different locations and some of the staff “want to see your face.” A couple of the real no-nonsense introverts in my office despise the video chat though and will do anything to avoid it. I use Yahoo IM to tell me when I have new email at night, but I am always invisible to those contacts.

  3. I started out communicating over the internet via IRC. In other words, we’re talking about a very fast paced way of communicating. It was great, because you could join in on the conversations in the channel as much and little as you wanted and felt was okay.
    You could have private conversations too.

    As my friends wanted to move over to IM I slowly moved over to that. I like the IRC interface, but IM grew on me. I communicated a lot with it, but in the later years I started to hate it, as I felt you were in a big room with a lot of people, but everyone was just standing there. So I thought, why?

    When Twitter came along (and Pownce), I started using that more and found that more useful. At the moment I’m not using IM at all. I found the IM taking up needed system resources and I probably just used it less than 5% of the day. I also had the habit of not being there when being contacted, and when trying to reply, that other person was gone.
    And I probably just talked to, I don’t know, 5% of those who are on my list.

    I also hate the phone and see it as something that has gone from something useful to a great annoyance. It’s like the story about the boy who cried wolf. To me, the phone just cries wolf and I just keep on ignoring it.

    Due to me being overwhelmed with the mobile phone and IM I feel Twitter and email suits me much better now. With Twitter and especially email you’re not expected to reply on the drop of a hat. Twitter can be more fast paced than email of course, but in the end, you answer when you have time and are available.

    I also feel that with use of Twitter and email the communication is more equal when it comes to time and expectancy to give an answer.

    Got a bit long, but I just woke up from a nap. πŸ™‚

    • Yes – the phone says, “I don’t care how many people you have in your queue of things to address; I am going to be #1 RIGHT NOW.” I like Twitter too – and what is going to kill it for me is if someday they show that you are “online.” If no one can see that, then no one knows whether to expect a reply now, today, or next week. Glad to see you here, Xen! Hope the nap was good. πŸ™‚

      • I don’t think Twitter will ever implement that. If they do, I will use my fav status, invisible. πŸ˜‰

        I also came to think about another reason why I don’t use IM any more.
        When I do sit down to be a huge geek or just relax with my computer, I don’t want to be disturbed. With email and Twitter you answer when I have time. As Twitter and email isn’t technically real-time, it’s not expected (I think) to answer on the drop of a hat. πŸ™‚

        The nap was very refreshing. πŸ™‚

        • πŸ™‚ Yes, if everyone would just stick to email and Twitter, we really could answer when it’s a good time for us. Lately a guy has been coming and bothering me at my desk for no reason at all, and that is my MOST HATED form of disturbance! Finally yesterday I told him pointedly, “Why don’t you add me to your IM so you don’t have to get up so much!” πŸ˜‰ So that’s why IM is on my “good list” – I am always hoping it can prevent a phone call or walk-up.

          • You’re not alone. I hate that. I’m not too fond of office work, but I still don’t like to be disturbed when I work.

            We’re not allowed to use IM at work, but that’s fine as I can easily get side tracked if I get too focused on something.

  4. I prefer email to any other form of communication, especially at work. I LOATHE “cubicle visits” as nine times out of ten they are a complete waste of time and whatever information actually needs to be conveyed could be better done in email. I don’t always retain information that I hear, anyway. Our lead is forever “mentioning” things that he’s done, changes he’s made or things he wants me to do and then getting frustrated when I don’t remember them. I’ve told him countless times that if it’s really important he needs to EMAIL it to me and TELL me it’s important. (He talks a lot, so nuggets of importance usually get lost in the stream of irrelevant babble) Also, email leaves an ‘electronic trail’ which is very useful in the case of misunderstandings or “mis-rememberings”. If I email our group a notice that I’m rebooting a server, nobody can come to me later and say “You didn’t tell me!” If a department head calls me and tells me to change folder permissions, and there are problems later, I have no recourse unless I can produce an email with those instructions. Very rarely do I find the phone a necessary evil – I hardly ever make a phone call. I hardly ever answer my phone, either. I let calls go to voice mail and deal with them on MY timetable. I don’t much care for IM but it beats a “cubicle visit” anyday – unfortunately, I work with mostly extroverts who seem to think “face time” is always necessary. An additional challenge I have is that I really don’t like my job much, so it sometimes takes me a while to “gear up” to digging into a project. Then, no sooner have I finally gotten started than someone interrupts me and I have to start all over again from square one. It’s a huge reason that my projects take forever to complete!
    .-= hermit loner´s last blog ..Let us come to you! (But, would we?) =-.

    • I’m with you on the verbal vs. email communication! I don’t know why people think the “face to face” is superior, but as you pointed out, email is a way to make sure we remember things correctly, and it’s SEARCHABLE! πŸ™‚

      Oh yes – if there’s anything that’s less pleasant than digging into a project you don’t like, it would be having to do it repeatedly because of interruptions! You’d think companies would realize that they’d get a lot more out of their employees, especially the introverts, if they’d just give us each a quiet place to work!

  5. I find with instant messaging that leaving the IM on all the time, without every setting it to busy or idle, makes the best excuse. People will get to know you as “that person” that always leaves it running, so you can always use the excuse that you were just in the bathroom, out to lunch, and so on, assuming they are not in the office with you.

    I also set mine to flash on the taskbar only, so the new IM’s don’t override whatever I am working on. That way, if I do need some time before answering, I can use the excuse that I was focusing on something else (or in full screen mode of another program) and missed the flash in the taskbar.
    .-= Kristi´s last blog ..Who You Are Meant To Be =-.

    • Kristi, that’s so true – I know several “that person”s πŸ™‚ who always leave IM on, and they may be at lunch or they may be there at their computer but the rest of us just never know. I’ve gotten used to IM-ing them and maybe getting an answer or maybe not. Doing that is a great way to enjoy IM without having it stress you out or set your priorities for you.

  6. I much prefer chatting through electronics such as: e-mails, txt messaging, online chats, yahoo messenger, guestbook entries, etc. That’s why people would ask me questions when they get to meet me personally, how come I’m too talkative and insightful when they talk to me online but so quiet when they finally get to meet me personally. I don’t know, maybe it’s just best to tell all those philosophical things without having to look or sound ridiculous online through chatting.

    • I think that’s true for most of us introverts. I had one acquaintance who knew me for years off and on, including plenty of time hanging out together. Then she moved away and we started writing to each other (this was the early 90s). She actually wrote to me, “All these years I never knew how funny and smart you are until we started writing to each other!” At the time, I found that a bit insulting! But now I just know that I communicate best through writing, so I make sure I email others my best insights – in case my verbal explanation was lacking.

  7. I hate IM. But recently it’s expected I use it at work. But like this article says, I set mine to ‘Don’t interrupt’ after the very first completely useless, just because it’s cool to IM. All of my project team knows they _can_ IM me, but they still come over to ask the questions, which I do actually prefer, as long as they don’t stay too long πŸ˜‰

    • πŸ™‚ That’s the thing – we hope that people will use the method we can live with. I don’t know why everyone has to have that instant response – phone, in person, IM, but they seem to need or at least want it!

  8. Emily Roberts on

    Oh brother, I hate IM’s! They are almost as annoying as talking to people face to face, but worse because it seems to take all my friends decades to respond, so I’m hanging around waiting for a good five to ten minutes for them to send a pointless three-word reply to something that didn’t really need replying to. I love text-messages because I am always so awkward on the phone. I have known my best friend for over six years, and in all that time I have called her maybe three times, and always for a purpose; never to chat idly–she always calls me, and even when our conversations last for hours, we have a mutual unspoken agreement that she does all the talking while I listen attentively. Of course my extroverted father, who doesn’t get unlimited texting, is somewhat annoyed that I text people more than I call them, and he’s always telling me to just call, but he doesn’t understand how incredibly awkward and self-conscious I feel calling people; even my own grandparents! I have to say though, of the millions of ways we have to communicate with one another now, email is, and will probably remain my favourite; it’s low-pressure, gives me time to say things well, doesn’t take much time, and is so impersonal that it doesn’t feel the least bit uncomfortable. I do love the internet! πŸ™‚

  9. I don’t like IM much, although I’d rather text, email, IM…than use the phone. Email is still my favorite, because just like you said, we get the chance to think and reply if we want to. Nonetheless, I find all of those networking sites are really annoying. Alas, I am member to a couple of them (due to the bribery my friends have made). At first they may be alright, you “friend” those people who you really know, but then this person and the other want to “friend” you as well. I cannot fathom why there are people with 1,000 friends, when they don’t really know each other. It’s so absurd.

    • Emily Roberts on

      I know exactly what you mean! I somehow allowed myself to get wheedled into joining facebook, and now half my class has “friended” me. Many of the kids on my “friends list” are the popular type who wouldn’t be caught dead talking to the likes of me, and who frankly, I have no interest in getting to know. I never use facebook, and yet on those rare occasions when I do visit–say, once every three to four months at best– I find that people are still writing to me and commenting on photos of me that other people have posted! They must be really bored if they’re actually trying to start a conversation with a person they know is never there! πŸ™‚

  10. I commited suicide on both Facebook and Hi5!! I couldn’t stand the bunch of mails I got whenever someone had a ‘thought’! (brain fart’s the right expression) Deleted everything, everyone and then puff… I died.

    Then, I had the mega-ultra-stupidest idea of all times when I joined Twitter; I was in there for about 2 weeks and decided to slit that one too. IMs work for me.

    • I like Twitter for certain subjects – like introverts comiserating about annoying people in the break room, warning other pet lovers about food recalls, c0mplaining to Lowe’s when I don’t get something I ordered. But I don’t read peoples’ announcements about what they and their schmoopy-bear are having at Starbucks. πŸ˜‰

  11. For some things, IM/email is more convenient (don’t have to remember things), other times being physically there and talking instead of typing it all out (unless you’re both really fast typers), sometimes is more efficient for me. One coworker (who sadly left last week πŸ™ ), he would sometimes come up in person instead, which I actually liked because I liked being around him, other times due to physical limitations IM was still welcome because it was our way of connecting.

    Iif it’s a person I like or a loved one, being in their physical presence is the most satisfying (maybe my S in ISTJ). Their inflection, body language, pitch change, all helps to more experience them.

    It’s funny that there seems to be levels of intimacy tied with communication forms, like talking on the phone is more than text, which might be more than IM, than more than voicemail or email. I recall times when I wanted it to go to voicemail instead of the person answering.

    Emails or letter writing, there’s something really good about those, when both people reply back with equal amounts though, not sending a letter than getting almost text message replies back, that’s not what letter writings about.

  12. carefulseeker on

    How do people feel about Skype or video messaging? Sometimes I try to avoid it! I think while I am on my computer I want to be on my computer looking at things…I would rather talk on the phone than Skype. But of course it has its benefits. It can’t be a spontaneous thing but planned and for a certain amount of time. I think that is fair to say for IM too. I can be IMing for hours when I don’t really want to.

  13. I love IMing. A lot of people like talking to me but out of my 192 contacts on my IM account, I only appear online to 3 people. The rest I ignore and stay offline to. For me it’s easier to communicate with fellow introverts, i don’t feel like I’m wasting my time or that I’m being misunderstood. We speak in our own language and talk about things that interests us. I try to hold confersations with othe rpeople but they are often very brief. TO me in the world of IM you can control who you talk to and how long you talk to them. As opposed to in person when the other party can tell when your lying about having to leave πŸ™‚

  14. I agree with you and I think most of the time I’m introvert. I prefer to have that kind of communication texting and IM than answering a phone call. I like to be silent that to be noisy.

  15. We use Skype at the office, well it’s your choice whether to reply or not. Also there are settings that you can change your status to β€˜busy’ just like at Skype that disables sounds, or other annoying notifications. IM has also a lot of benefits than constructing email. I think it’s kind of social way to talk to a person when it’s Instant Messaging. Emails are for formal messages that you need to construct but I prefer IM than emails.

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