iMessage Doesn’t Belong In iChat

Text messaging is not chatting.

Being logged into iChat means you are telling everyone on your buddy list that you are ready to be involved in conversation.

Anyone who’s used IM services since the late 90s can tell you what a single message can do. It can either be a welcome invitation to conversation that can go on for hours, or a layer of pestering that makes you wonder why you even have your IM software open.1

That layer of potential distraction is the reason I’ve stopped opening iChat, unless I want to be involved in a text-based conversation, which is, admittedly, becoming more rare. When I’m at my Mac I’m usually working, which means I can’t afford the distraction.

iMessage is great on your iOS device, and especially your iPhone. Since cell phones serve as a communication hub, iMessage feels right at home alongside text messages. It is text messaging.2

But I think there’s an unspoken agreement with text messages: that we’re (usually) not going to have long conversations over this medium. You can’t type 80 words per minute on an iPad or iPhone, so texts are kept short and concise.

Texting (I assume unless you’re a teenage girl) usually has a purpose behind it. “Could you get this at the store? Let me know when your flight lands. I’ll be 15 minutes late tonight. Where the fuck are you the show is about to start! I’m breaking up with you—don’t call.”

But an IM chat session, since you’re telling people that you’re ready and available to shoot the breeze, invites “hey, what’s up?”s and casual conversations that serve no purpose other than to catch up with friends. And that’s a fine purpose, but, frankly, not one I’m going to engage in when I need to be focused on something else.

Texting has the same convenience as email: I can leave a message alone and get back to it when I want to. You can’t do that with chat. With chat people get antsy if they don’t hear back from you within a minute. Why? Because this is an ACTIVE medium. You’re supposed to be engaged. Why else would you say you are available to chat?

iMessage has been rumored to make an appearance in iChat since last fall. It’s possible that it’s been ready to go for months. But I wonder if the potential for iMessage to conflict with the core of iChat is what’s held it back, at least until a better method comes along.

  1. Starting with ICQ in the late 90s, I think a whole generation of software users started building the habit of leaving their chat software open all day while they were in their teens. It was convenient too, since in those days nobody under 18 had a cell phone, and you most likely lived in a house where the phone was always tied up. 

  2. I admit that I do not have a text plan, so I avoid texting people. But something happened when iMessage came out and I suddenly became more likely to text people with it enabled than without it.