Making a Statement, in Absentia

“Students rarely post the default away message that comes with the [instant messenger] program. (“I am away from my computer right now,” for example, comes with AOL Instant Messenger, the program of choice on college campuses.) Instead, they create their own, transforming the away message into a kind of personal bulletin board available to anyone who cruises by. | They post a little of everything: news, quotes, schedules, song lyrics, birthday greetings, party invitations, jokes, veiled insults, confessions, exclamations, complaints. The messages may be meaningful to everybody, somebody or nobody.”

Making a Statement, in AbsentiaNY Times (Registration req’d))

The article refers to the pressure that some youths feel when they gain a reputation as someone who writes good away messages. I suppose that pressure is something like the pressure bloggers feel. It might be interesting to compare IM “away messages” with the static pictures that webcam operators use for much the same purpose. When I was an undergraduate in the late 80s, I recall the amount of time my friends and I spent personalizing telephone answering machine messages, sometimes enlisting groups of four or more people to take different parts in little dramas. But our parents had to use the telephone to contact us, and most of us shared telephones with our roommates, and when we started looking for summer jobs or internships, we had to ensure that our answering machine message appeared serious and professional. Perhaps youths don’t really expect adult emissaries from the real world to get in touch with them via IM — though of course, Mom or Dad might have taken up the habit in order to be a part of their kids’ lives.