Despite having been quite a skeptic a couple of years ago when it came to Instant Messaging (IM), I have realized these days that I have fully integrated IM into my working and private life and today I wouldn't want back. In fact, if somebody calls me on Skype these days without sending an IM first to ask if I am available or to let me know what it is about, it feels a bit strange, almost like an intrusion.
Communicating with IM people
I usually don't call people on the phone that regularly use IM. In most cases the questions I have can be answered in a few words. No need to call and 'hard interrupt' the other person or myself. To me, IM seems more like a 'soft interrupt' with the option to ignore for a little while to finish something else first. I can even continue my work and once I have the answer I can quickly go back and fill in the gaps, if the task at hand permits.
While the amount of incoming and outgoing messages remain reasonable, I can get answers and answer questions myself pretty much on the fly without fully interrupting the main task I am doing at the moment. Much more efficient than making a phone call for both parties involved.
I can also see right away when somebody is busy or not available. So instead of calling and leaving a voice mail, I can set a 'notification event' in my messenger so I don't have to guess when the other person might come back or waste time in trying to call.
Communicating with Non-IM people
Seeing people being present gives me a sense of connectedness and the reassurance that I can quickly get help or advice when necessary. With people that are not connected, however, my business practice is quite different. Here, the only way to contact them is by phone or e-mail. While e-mail is definitely less intrusive than IM, you never know when the other person reads it or when he will answer it. And making a phone call will definitely interrupt whatever the other person is doing or I might not be able to reach him at all. It feels a bit like walking in the dark or playing the lottery.
No mobile-IM yet
What I haven't come around to using yet is IM on my mobile phone. Not that it's a technical issue, there are enough mobile IM clients available. Maybe that's because I also don't read my business e-mails on a mobile device since my questions and answers I get/send by e-mails are usually longer than what small keyboards, screens and not being able to look up things in documents, support. Or maybe I just don't want to be bothered while in transition!?
Interesting though how many of my friends, co-workers and customers are using mobile-IM these days, even those that generally questioned the usefulness of Internet access from mobile devices a couple of years ago.
So my question to you is: How do you feel about / use IM today?
P.S.: Have you noticed that almost everyone now uses an avatar (picture) in their IM program. I wonder how that happened!?