iChat? I do not

Every time I passed by my colleagues’ computers, I saw something that I didn’t normally see on my own— iChat, or some other brand of instant-messaging software.

I like iChat—it’s cute. You can have your own customized icons, and you can keep it on just in case someone wants to talk to you from the privacy of their keyboard. I could always tell when someone in the office was chatting; keyboards would clatter a mile a minute. No one writes that fast. It took me a few months—OK, a year and a half—to set up my iChat. I registered with AOL for a screen name; I crafted my own icon (a picture of my cat, Lila); the whole bit.

There’s only one problem: I never use it.

The only time I can remember setting up a chat program was a few years ago, when I was writing a story about chat software, and naturally, I made my husband (who has a Windows machine at work) download all of the programs so I could try them out. It came in very handy. If I wanted to tell him something, I’d just write, “Busy?” And, bless his soul, he’d write back, “Never too busy for you,” and we’d talk with much more privacy than a phone conversation in a roomful of people. I liked that.

But soon, he tired of it. “I was going to ask you whether you didn’t have work to do,” he wrote one day. “Then I remembered, this is your work.””

Then he started to complain that this one client he downloaded would not remove itself from his computer even though he had deleted it. “Those icons keep appearing when I start up, no matter what I do. And anyway, I’m not supposed to be downloading all this junk to my computer here,” he declared, with a fair degree of conviction. Then he started to be “away” all day, so I couldn’t chat with him even if I wanted to. Our chatting days unceremoniously ended—luckily my story was also finished.

Fast-forward: I fired up my iChat here a few weeks ago. Almost everyone in the office is connected via Bonjour, so I really feel like I’m part of the crowd now. But nothing’s changed about my work life. Nothing substantial, anyway, except that every time someone changes his or her status, I can see the chat window redraw. That was a little distracting at first, but I don’t notice it anymore.

My husband also reluctantly agreed to get an AIM screen name so we could chat via his AOL client, but after the first couple of days, he was always mysteriously “away.” Again.

The thing I finally figured out about chat is that chat imitates life. Either you’re a chatterer or you’re not. I’m not a chatterer in real life, and having a cute software program will not change that (and as for the cool, new video part—forget it). So instead of chatting, my husband and I have gone back to communicating the old-fashioned way: by e-mail. So it takes him 45 minutes to answer an e-mail, so what? At least he’s not away from his desk all day.

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