Sending a Message

Sending a Message

Instant Karma's gonna get you, Gonna knock you right on the head.

I recently suffered the ignominy of being seen as technologically impoverished during a teleconference with three other people where we all did e-mail on our wireless laptops, spoke on our mobile phones, punched in SMS and occasionally listened to the muted teleconference phone. We also had voice available to us, but rather than actually talk the other three were constantly typing out conversations to each other - although not to me because I didn't have instant messaging (IM). Clearly, having just five simultaneous methods of communication is not enough so I too must IM enable.

The reasons for burgeoning growth in IM are debatable, but I put it down to open plan offices. Back in the old rabbit-warren days of pokey offices everywhere, it was easy to gossip about colleagues, stab managers in the back and discuss confidential plans with no risk of being overheard. Nowadays, where offices walls have been replaced by amplification partitions, everybody listens to every conversation in the building, ruining productivity and killing off intrigue, rumour and Machiavellian manoeuvres. With IM, we've invented a method of having one-on-one conversations in private while in the open. Instant messaging for instant muck-raking.

I also realized why instant messaging is called collaboration software. In WWII, a collaborator was a hated individual who underhandedly communicated with the enemy and spread propaganda and lies. IM allows us to exactly that today and become equally despised.

As I was preparing to install IM in my home office, I read a lot of security warnings about spam for IM - which those creative computer wags call "spim". I'm more worried about possible IM viruses, worms and bots so I'm on the lookout for VIRIMs, WIMs, JIMK mail, TROJIMs and most particularly BOTIMs, which I guess come in through a security back door.

Since installing IM, I've never been busier or done so little work. At any given time, I've got dozens of chats going - mostly with people I rarely speak to. I thought that, unlike e-mail, no one could check what I was typing, aside from the complete strangers managing the IM servers. I took advantage of this lack of auditing until it all went horribly wrong. Whenever the Boss told the junior employees it was "time to stop using that stupid computer and go to bed", I'd send them a message telling them to play a bit longer. This makes me their favourite. But the youngest was so amused by my anti-authoritarian messages, she cut and pasted them into her "Funny File", which the Boss read, and subsequently banned us all from using IM. We were furious, and spent the next hour sending each other messages about this injustice. Then someone attached a very witty doctored photo of the Boss that was widely circulated, discussed, improved upon and sent again. It seemed like a good idea at the time. (While my IM privileges were reinstated after a week, other privileges have not yet been restored.)

This incident caused the Boss to question why we have instant messaging at all given it's never been approved by management. The fact that in most companies IM was introduced by employees who just thought it was a good idea didn't help my case, and she's clamped down on IM use. She justifies it saying we're now legally accountable for all company communications due to regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley, although I don't see why a Polio serum for cows should affect us.

I'm currently tweaking the options on my IM server (called Santa because it's a Presence Engine) and have just got an instant message from the Boss indicating if I finish work now, my remaining privileges may be reinstated. So I'm stopping immediately - instant gratification always beats instant messaging.

Bruce Kirkham is a veteran IT professional specializing in leading-edge technologies and scepticism, who views the IT industry not so much as "dot com" as "dot comedy"

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