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ISSUE 117 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/21/2003

Instant loss of true messages

By Jean Mullins
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 21, 2003

There are several must-haves when a student goes to college: underwear with one’s name on the tag, new pens and pencils and a bed set with matching throw pillows. Becoming increasingly important is a popular a method of electronic communication – something that is easy on the college student’s wallet and doesn’t involve time zone calculations. The new college must-have? America Online Instant Messenger, otherwise known as AIM.

“It’s easy and it doesn’t cost anything,” said Zach Bunnell, ’07.

Many will testify to the ease with which this service allows students to communicate. All one has to do is click a mouse, type in a password, and voila! He or she is instantly immersed in conversation with someone hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Particularly useful during one’s first year at college, when high school pals have dispersed across the country to different schools, AIM provides easy access to faraway friends. One can be available 24 hours a day without having to worry about annoying phone calls late at night that can wake a roommate. With AIM’s personalized preferences, one can block any obnoxious people to whom he or she would rather not speak. Thanks to wireless computer connections and cell phones with access to the internet, students can be online pretty much anywhere and at anytime. And best of all, AIM software is free.

“I think that it helps personal contact because it allows me to talk with friends I otherwise wouldn’t talk with,” said Kirsten Meyer ‘07.

However, the ease of AIM as a communication tool has led to physical laziness among users both at St. Olaf and across the country. Students are having AIM conversations with people who live only a short walk across campus, or even across the hall, rather than physically visiting them. There have even been reports of people instant messaging their roommates when he or she is in the same room. IM has cut out the personal contact in many conversations – one can sit in a room alone, but with AIM, he or she can still carry on conversations with fifteen other people. This leads us to a question: is it a growing societal problem when people prefer to use AIM rather than engaging in face-to-face interaction?

“It increases personal contact because I use it to make plans with people,” said Amy Trowbridge ’05, “but for some people it is a problem.”

The ridiculous amounts of time many people spend online leads to some users who make AIM their sole means of communication. This also explains the phenomenon of online dating. People normally too shy to ask out a prospective date in person find the Internet a safe alternative. Online, one can have all the conversations he or she could want without having to interpret the facial expressions and tone of the person to whom he or she is speaking. People can simply take the words typed across the internet at face value.

This is where AIM falters; one is stripped of his or her capacity to judge the tone and body language that accompany the spoken word of conversation. One’s ability to understand the actual meaning of another person’s words becomes difficult. Essentially, the missing component of AIM is the personal contact that accompanies physical interaction – without body language and tone, the personal connection is lost.

So while AIM is a cheap and easy way to communicate with friends across the country and is an effective means of arranging meetings with friends across campus, it is lacking in its capacity to communicate heart-to-heart sentiments to loved ones. When possible, it is always a good idea for personal contact to take precedence over convenience.

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