This chapter discusses instant messaging (IM) as a valuable digital tool that has influenced business communication practices at least as much as e-mail. It argues that IM’s characteristics of presence awareness, synchronicity, hybridity, and interactivity create a unique set of writing and reading experiences. These functional qualities both require and hone high-level writing and reading skills, which are used powerfully in communicative multitasking. The authors believe that IM should be sanctioned in the workplace and that IM use should be a subject of focused training; to that end, they provide a practical, literacy-based training sequence that can be adapted to various settings.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Communicative Multitasking: The process of having more than one communicative exchange (for example, IM, telephone, or face-to-face) with one or more interlocutors at the same time.
Hybridity: The nature of computer-mediated talk, which has elements of both spoken and written language; people who communicate via IM can write much like they would speak in person or on the telephone.
Thread: The exchange between two communicators; each topic of discussion is a separate thread.
Channel: The link between the two communicators—IM, telephone line, e-mail.
Presence Awareness: Both a technical feature of IM that indicates the availability of another person a chat and a genuine sense of one’s physical or virtual presence—the immediacy of one person’s awareness of another using CMC.
Phatic: Oral and typed language such as “hmmm,” “uh huh,” “thinking,” and “k” (for “okay”) that provides backchannel cues to help speakers convey that they are present and participating in the conversation.
Synchronicity: The quality of being synchronous, or “real-time” in communication; for example, an IM requires two people who are simultaneously connected to engage an initiated interaction, whereas an e-mail, which is asynchronous, does not require the recipient’s immediate presence and participation.
Interactivity: The degree to which a reader or listener can respond interpersonally with the writer or speaker.
Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC): Any communication that occurs through computer technology, such as IM or e-mail.