Friday, August 26, 2005

Why IM?

I attended an NSLS presentation on IM given by Aaron Schmidt a couple weeks ago. I saw one of our part-time librarians there who seemed rather puzzled by running into me. I had already set up IM at my library in the Spring after all, why would I need to attend a presentation about getting started?

I went because I liked what Aaron and Michael Stepthens had to say about IM at Computers in Libraries. I also went because Aaron's presentation was marketed towards librarians. I was interested in seeing how he, a librarian himself, pitched the service, answered questions, and addressed concerns (namely, the one I find most troublesome, why IM?). In short, I was there to spy.

It didn't take long for the 'Why IM?' question to rear its ugly head. It came in several forms: 'Is it important? Do we really need to bother supporting it? Won't it hinder productivity rather than add to it?'

I'm not sure the librarians at the presentation got the why part any more than my librarians did when I tried to explain it myself. I wasn't really sure how to truly answer this question until recently. Maybe that is because I can't imagine my life without IM. More to the point, I can't imagine my world without all my current communication tools from my cell phone (which I recently used to take pictures while on a trip in Europe and uploaded them to my flickr account which posted them to my travel blog keeping all my family, friends, and coworkers updated along the way) to the games I play (And its always safest to write it MMOG, not the longer MMORPG, for future reference), to Trillian, to the web sites I frequent (less frequently now that I use Google's new personalized homepage with RSS feed reader built in). My world, and the world of the other 18-34 year olds (now being called the WHOIS generation), is all about being plugged in to a community, not just for information gathering, but for free flowing exchange of knowledge and friendship. I am closer with some of my online friends (that I have never met face to face), than I am my with some of my real life ones. I am able to keep in constant contact with my community in real time, no matter where we are in the world. I can also choose to turn off and unplug if I wish as well, effectively dropping off the face of the earth.

Here's a couple of examples:

Exhibit A - I met a guy in a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) called City of Heroes a year and a half ago when it was first released. He's a 26 year old MIT grad who lives in California where he makes way too much money as a database consultant. He stopped playing City of Heroes after a few months, but we still keep in touch almost everyday through IM where we often call upon each other's knowledge to solve work related problems. I've never met him in real life, but I consider him to be one of my best friends and a great asset to my career.

Exhibit B - I left my laptop behind when I went to Computers in Libraries this year thinking I wouldn't use it enough to warrant the extra carry on bag. I didn't realize how much I would miss it until I had to wait in half an hour to 45 minute lines with the other poor schlubs for a chance to 'plug in' for 10 minutes.

Exhibit C - Playing online games with my friends from work has strengthend our friendships as well as our working relationships. We work better together in real life because we have learned to work well together in the games we play.

IM, Google, Flickr, RSS, SMS, MMOGs, Social networks, mobile phones, Ipods, PSPs, TiVo, On-demand, real time, are more than buzzwords, devices and software. They are more than ways to gather and share information. They are more than an appendage. They play as integral a part of life for many members of my generation (and the one after me) as the air we breathe. Most of us don't even notice that until, for whatever reason, we can't connect.

You don't have to get it, and you don't have to support it and you don't have to meet us there. But if you don't there is a chance you will lose your relevance as we turn to the people, companies, and services that do.

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