Messaging Migration – Part II

Note: Yesterday I wrote about my messaging migration. This is part II of that post. Follow the link to see the rest of the story.

As I wrote yesterday, I’ve long loved the idea of Internet Messaging. Real-time text communication over the Internet is a “killer app.” The tools I’ve used to send messages, however, have changed over the years. Services came and went, tool went out of fashion, and most importantly people’s expectations changed.

It used to be that my connections with people were based on Internet venue. If I knew someone on an IRC chatroom, or specific Instant Messaging client, then I had to be in the proper virtual space to make use of those connections. If I wanted to chat with someone on IRC I had to log into the appropriate room. If I wanted to talk with someone who was on AIM I needed to be logged in to that network. Eventually, enterprising people came up with multi-network clients which allowed users to connect to all their accounts through one window. This helped, but it was still a mess. Sometimes the connections to the different network would break, or people lost a password to a little-used account 1 kept active just to hold on to one or two contacts, sometimes things just went wonky for no discernible reason.

Perhaps the greatest difference between then and now, however, was the mentality behind these different IM connections. They were, even among users, siloed. While I had a few contacts I chatted with on several services, most people would have been shocked if I tracked them down on another service and said, “Hi.” It just wasn’t done. Yahoo friends were Yahoo friends, AIM buddies were AIM buddies. Google connections stayed on Google. If someone shut down the account through which you were connected, that connection was severed. If a person wasn’t logged in to their account, then you would not search for them somewhere else – not being logged in meant don’t talk to me.

Oh how things have changed.

The major catalyst in this shift is, of course, the rise of SMS messaging. Once keyboards replaced keypads on cell phones everyone began texting 2. When smartphones came on the scene texting began to look more and more appealing, and people texted even more. Not only were we able to break away from the bonds of the desk, we were able to get away from the need to have an application open at all. When we receive a message our phones buzz, beep, rang, and chant 3. We don’t check to see if someone can receive a text, nor do we rely on buddy lists or status messages. A text is the way we check if someone is able to chat 4.

Now we have no boundaries, no applications, and no status indicators. We expect that someone whom we text to see the message in several minutes at most. We’ve come a long way from the event that was logging into a chat room, but it’s actually changed even more than I knew.

Silos are gone.

I have three messaging apps left in my toolbox – Hangouts, iMessage, and Facebook Messenger. While I do have friends who demonstrate preferences for one over the other, none of the people whom I chat would feel unease if I reached out to them through another service. In fact, I shift services with them all the time, sometimes even in the middle of a conversation. When I do, people don’t so much as blink twice. I used to apologize for needing to change between services, but I have since stopped this practice. This is mostly because people figure I have a good reason for the switch, so it’s no big deal. After all, the messages are still going through. When I begin a conversation in Hangouts, then switch to iMessage in the car so Siri can handle the texting, it’s just normal. When a facebook post becomes a pastoral text message, it’s perfectly all right. The mental distinctions are gone, now we’re just connecting with people, and the ways we connect are nothing more than tools.

This isn’t to say nothing has been lost in the transition. While relational silos created a mess during they heyday of Instant Messaging, there was still something significant about them. Connecting with someone through IM signified some form of relationship existed. After all, the people who populated buddy lists were given permission to be there. This is no longer the case, particularly with SMS messages. People don’t need permission to text me, they just do. Nor does reaching out to me in this way entail any kind of depth in the relationship. I’m contacted by friends, family, congregants, and acquaintances, colleagues, and even salespeople all the same way. The silo which relegated messaging to a semi-relational status is, indeed, gone.

Still, I’m not completely broken-up by the shift. The absence of these relational silos makes my communication much easier – I can Facebook Message, Text, Hangout, and (gasp) even call people without being concerned about breaking into territory where “the pastor” isn’t supposed to be – this is something I couldn’t do very easily even 6 years ago. It’s a trade-off I’m quite happy to make.

  1. This was, of course, before 1 Password. 
  2. And not only teenagers, who do things the rest of us find bizarre and dangerous, until we decide it’s actually rather cool. 
  3. Mine chants, “Let’s Go Phillies!” 
  4. Unless you are very close, never call someone without first texting them for an OK. Failure to do so is considered incredibly rude. You are welcome for the social insight.