A new class of high-speed Internet connection services touting unlimited access has made it even more tempting for students to take advantage of being online and chatting it up with friends using instant messenger.

Paul Wong
Students prefer online instant messaging services for its low-cost convenience. IM users have increased to more than 63 million in the U.S. and 250 million worldwide. (JESSICA YURASEK/Daily)

According to a report released in November by Jupiter Media Metrix, the number of people who use instant messaging – more commonly known as IM – has grown significantly to more than 63 million Americans within the past year. Whether in the workplace or simply killing time in the residence halls, online conversations have become the norm in terms of fast, cost-efficient communication.

“Most students will leave their computers on all day just in case someone needs to leave a message,” LSA freshman Aaron Barry said.

In lieu of paying costly bills for long-distance telephone calls, LSA sophomore Alex Eversmeyer uses IM two to three hours per day to keep in touch with family and friends out of state.

“It all depends who’s online … There are definitely times that when I’m chatting and I should really be doing schoolwork,” he said.

The number of people who use IM at work rose 34 percent from 10 million in Sept. 2000 to 13.4 million in Sept. 2001, according to the report. Home instant messaging grew 28 percent from 42 million in Sept. 2000 to 53.8 million in Sept. 2001.

Jupiter also reported an increase in IM usage time, showing a 110 percent increase to 4.9 billion minutes at work. For users at home, time spent chatting via IM increased 48 percent to 13.6 billion minutes.

LSA freshman Oliver Olsen said often times he finds IM to be unnecessary and a nuisance.

“The worst thing about it is that sometimes people upstairs will IM me, and it’s just so stupid because the whole point is to have interaction and it just takes away from everything,” Olsen said.

“My roommate sent me some random messages,” Olsen added, pointing to the computer directly behind him. “I really don’t know why. It’s really strange.”

According to a study of IM users ages 12 to 17 from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 57 percent of teens surveyed said they have blocked online messages, and 64 percent have refused to respond to someone they were mad at.

Harvard University psychologist Maressa Hecht Orzack said that people are attracted to the Internet for a number of reasons which, in the most serious cases, may lead to addictive disorders.

“There are three things that seem to cause some of the attraction – anonymity, affordability and accessibility,” she said. “Other people will find cyber connections more appealing than real life ones and may therefore neglect their obligation in work, school and family.”

For Barry, IM has not replaced having face-to-face conversations with his friends. He said the lack of personal connection is a major drawback in using Internet chat rooms.

“It’s kind of strange because you could be a completely different person online,” he said.

Twenty-six percent of IM using teens have pretended to be someone different while chatting, according to the Pew report. Thirty-seven percent of them have also said they have used IM to say something that they would not have said to somebody’s face.

Of the 754 teens who participated in the Pew study, 17 percent have used IM to ask someone out, while 13 percent have used IM to break up.

Orzack said although she isn’t against the advancement of technology, she wants to stress that not everything can be done through the keyboard or by the click of a mouse.

“People need real hugs, not virtual ones … virtual sex does not keep up the population.”

It is estimated that there are a quarter-billion IM users world-wide.

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