Chat Rooms, Instant Messaging & Isolation
It’s human nature to want to communicate with others. We gossip, we talk on the phone, sometimes for hours. We reach out, and often enjoy it when people reach out to us.
So it’s natural that the urge to communicate has followed us into the virtual world. We can e-mail, but that’s not enough. After all, it depends on the other person logging on, receiving the mail and replying – all of which takes time.
All of which makes it no surprise that chat rooms have been around since the earliest days of the commercial Internet. First the portals like Compuserve and AOL offered their own rooms, then IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, offered a wide-ranging, uncensored way to talk online, both in chat rooms and individually.
Instant messaging became a force with Yahoo Messenger and Microsoft’s MSN Messenger (now Windows Live Messenger), along with AOL’s Aim (as well as other services like ICQ) that allowed you to assemble a “buddy list.” When one of your friends came online you were notified and could begin an online conversation with them.
How Instant Messaging Has GrownInstant messaging really took off once it became widespread amongst a younger generation, who used it to keep in touch from home with friends. Now it’s become an accepted, vital part of communication, more so than chat rooms (some services, like MSN, abandoned chat rooms altogether).
Then it was adopted by business as a quick way for employees to keep in touch with each other and ask simple questions – faster than walking to another department or picking up the phone.
With instant messaging you can even use webcams to see each other, or a microphone to voice chat (which can eliminate costly international phone bills).
But chat rooms remain popular, and so many different services offer them. They’re a place to exchange opinions or argue with a disparate group of people. Chat rooms have acquired a bad reputation because of paedophiles, and although around 25% of kids – the main users of chat rooms – say they’ve met someone in real life whom they first met online, the incidence of exploitation is thankfully low. People do meet from chat rooms, romances occur, and of course there’s cybersex.
Chat & IsolationWe’re talking – we’re even having online sex, which is about as intimate as you can get – but we’re doing it all while hiding behind a computer monitor. Our concept of communication has changed. But has it changed in a good way?
Talk used to be about being face to face and engaging in wide-ranging discussions. For many, it still is; a lot of people balance their online and real lives. But as people use their computers more and more, we spend more time at home, alone in a room with a screen and chat to other that way.
In isolation we form cyber relationships that become substitutes for real world relationships, and each step takes us further into isolation as we live more online. We type and get responses, but all too often do we even know who we’re talking to? It’s just a name and we take the sex and description on trust. Even if we see a photo, it could easily be a fake. Ultimately, we just need to talk, to have a response.
Chat rooms and instant messaging are fine. They’re useful as entertainment and communication tools. But we need to remember that’s all they are, rather than becoming sucked entire them as entire universes. The world is not just on the other side of the screen, it’s outside the window!