I woke up around 2pm yesterday. No problem–it’s summer, right? But I flipped up my laptop’s screen and noticed my lazy morning had caused serious problems for someone (let’s call him “Overeager Colleague”). Two emails were awaiting me in my inbox, both referring to the same, rather trivial problem, which incidentally wasn’t delaying anyone from doing anything and could easily be handled as soon as I put my contacts in. Before I could, though, a little box flashes up in the corner of my email and the title bar read, “Overeager Colleague Says…”*
Overeager Colleague: Abhi, are you there?
I need something taken care of.
I think you just came online–did you just wake up?–I see the green light on.
Damn you, green light.
I proceeded to put up a quick “out the door” status message on my gchat, responded to his email, and then found freedom in just two clicks (take that MLK): “Videos and More – Blocked.” Try it some time, emancipation feels good.
Of course, I’ll still have to deal with his nagging emails and too frequent text messages, but I hope today’s unsubtle intervention teaches him the golden rule of online communication: Chat Friends, Email Work, Phone Family.**
Yes, switching to Gmail for CMC has given us many great things–threaded messaging and document sharing, for example–and most additions are unequivocal goods, especially the undo feature in the @gmail version saving me one or two dumb reply-alls. Chat, though, is a contentious addition, and you know why: the Overeager Colleague is a common plight. Plus, there are the stilted convos with random “friends” (read: unwanted acquaintances) and the awkward “How’s it going” from old flings. On the whole, email chat seems to bring social dangers of TNC together with the professional hassles of open cubicles right into your online home, your inbox. Of course, it has its virtues. One-click video chat beats out Skype for ease and speed, helping sustain long-distance relationships, and group chats make picking dining halls for dinner or movies for a night out relatively painless. Notice the common denominator in those interactions though: they are with people you want to see, people to talk to, your friends.
There’s an appeal sure, to using chat for those other things, since it’s by definition quick and faceless. But unlike elevator conversations or quick stops by the office, chat doesn’t have an escape valve. You can’t just casually walk away to get a drink (“brb” implies you’ll be back) or pick up another call (they know you can have multiple windows open).*** No, you’re there chatting, indefinitely. And that’s great for friends–I know it’s helped me battle through a number of all-nighters with fellow brothers-in-arms–and that’s what it should be, a tool not meant to annoy or to coerce, but meant to make life easier and more fun. A way to talk with friends. A way, well, to chat.
But random acquaintances and overeager colleagues take heart, there is always email. Just please let me chat (and sleep) in peace.
*I actually changed his name in my contacts–you can do that and have Google make fun of people. For example, rename TNC’s mistake and enjoy, “Bad Life Decision is Currently Unavailable” or “99 Problems But a Bitch Is Away” But maybe I just have too much free time.
**I’ll continue unpacking this rule over the coming weeks, explaining why I screen calls religiously and end almost every email with the yes overly formal signature, “Best.”
***And to those of you who would say “just go invisible,” blocking yourself from everybody and choosing who you bless with your presence, I say, get over yourself. That’s basically making a two-way street run one direction for your own benefit. That’s not going to get us anywhere.