Instant Messaging in the Blind Spot

I'm thinking of switching entirely to IM next semester for student correspondence; it seems (currently) their predominate online communication tool, and I like to make things easier for students. I also feel I get more done faster via IM (with students) than via email.

Looking at my campus's ethics policy, I notice that instant messaging resides in a blind spot:

So, here at UIUC, we can't send email that is not work related, but we can IM all we want. TT recently reminded me of how lawsuits in departments often result in email being seized, but what about IM transcripts?

This gap (the focus on email communication while IM and Skypeing, for instance, remain in a blind spot) relates, I suppose, to the ways email approximates epistolary exchange, something quite old and familiar, while instant messaging is newer, different, and generally (I hear) "used by young people." But is that even right?


  1. I really don't get IM as a "new" technology. When I worked as a project manager for Verizon, (2000-02 timeframe) IM was used by employees of all ages to ask quick questions and also as a form of backchannel conversation on conference calls.

  2. Anonymous8:14 PM

    Two comments: First, Maria is right that instant messaging is by no means a new technology. I used a form of it routinely on computers at Michigan State University as early as 1989. All Apple Classics and Apple SEs. 'Member those?

    Second, I hate how government jobs, which includes teaching positions at universities and secondary schools and otherwise, treat their employees like children with anti-e-mail and anti-IM and anti-Web and antiphone rules, etc. Sheesh. The fact is, Dear Readers, if you work at any *normal* place of employment, your employer totally gets that it makes you a happy worker (and therefore a more productive worker) if you can resolve some personal issues from work on occasion. So long as you understand that your personal phone call or personal e-mail might be logged and read by the employer, they want you to make your doctor's appointments, deal with childcare issues, make vacation plans, set up meetings with friends, etc., by phone or by e-mail *from work.* And why not? There's nothing wrong with that. Obviously illegal activities or Web surfing addiction carried out on company equipment isn't a good idea, but why not police that on an individual basis instead of telling all of your employees that they are no more intelligent or responsible than kindergarteners and cannot be trusted to make good judgments about this kind of thing.

    The infantilization of employees that this kind of thing is symptomatic off merely propagates itself over time, creating an environment where childishness reigns everywhere. And not in a good way.

    But overall I think IM does lend itself to quickly resolving problems with students or otherwise: when I used to work at a large online retailer, I IMed customers having problems (at Christmastime) to fix everything fast. And I recently got a replacement battery for my laptop for free through an IM service session with the manufacturer. Just imagine what IM can achieve for students!


  3. I meant to suggest newer _than letter writing_ -- I can remember messaging on my old Mac Classic: not much different from today's mac's now that I think of it!

    Yeah, anti-personal-email policies are problematic, though I think probably one of the more thwarted sets of policies imaginable. Following the rules to the letter, I can't email a colleague about a tea or lunch date unless it's a working lunch, which, now that I think of it, they almost always are. Anyway, yes: nutty retrograde policies.

  4. what bothers me about the policy is the way it so clearly functions in the class system of the university. Can you imagine my supervisor (i.e. the [Assistant]Director of Rhetoric) giving a flying flip about the fact that I use my uiuc account to send personal email during office hours all the time? But I bet that the admin staff in the department are pretty careful about it, and they probably need to be.

    the whole ethics test that we have to do each year ignores the huge ethical issues of teaching (i guess it assumes that we handle those on a more individual level), while outlining in agonizing detail all the ways that administrative employees must toe the line ...

    the whole thing seems problematic ...

  5. Anonymous12:06 AM

    _Writing_ dates to only 1977.

  6. Anonymous12:12 AM

    Here is my computer history:

    1980 Texas Instruments
    1983 Atari 800
    1984 Apple Mac SE30
    1993 Apple PowerBook 180
    1995 Apple PowerMac 6500
    1997 Apple iMac (slotloading)
    1997 Sony Vaio laptop
    2003 Dell Inspiron 8000
    2006 HP Pavilion zd8000

    I should point out that I still own each of the computers since 1993; my iMac is still my "personal" computer to this day, but my "business" computer has been a Windows laptop for the past few years. Of course, I play video games on my "business" machine.

    I don't know why I'm sharing this. Seems like it's a bloggable topic somehow.