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Implications in Ignoring IMs
September 20, 2006 8:07 AM   Subscribe

If a friend ignored your instant messages all day when you knew that they were online the entire time, would you consider that rude?

I have a co-worker that I'm friendly with and I IMed her several times throughout the day, never receiving any response. Today, she was fairly chatty so I asked about her behavior. She said that she wanted to be left alone yesterday and that I was the only one who didn't get it.

Am I misguided here in feeling that this ignoring without any explanation was rude?
posted by bbrown to Human Relations (92 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
That was the explaination I thought was going on before I opened the question. Sometimes I never feel like talking to people, and just want to be left alone, and I'll just ignore IMs. If someone called I would talk to them, but sometimes you just don't feel like typing or are too busy with something else.

In short, don't be offended.
posted by gregschoen at 8:11 AM on September 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


I suppose it depends on your opinion, however the other person had the following alternateives:

1. Set an away msg.
2. Tell you they didnt want to chat.

When I am working, I often leave AIM up, but ignore people if I am busy or don't feel like chatting. The people I chat with are usually work, or friends. My friends know that if I dont reply, I am probably not around. I will usually always reply to people that are work related no matter what I am doing (because it is usually directly related to making money, or billable time).

So it depends on the person, but most people that talk with me know that if I dont reply, I am not available. Simple as that.

AIM doesn't let you have an away message and chat, though 3rd party addons do.
posted by SirStan at 8:12 AM on September 20, 2006


Funny, isn't that what away messages are for? If she didn't put up an away message and just ignored you, and acted like you should have known, the fault is hers, not yours.
posted by oaf at 8:12 AM on September 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's rude... If someone doesn't feel like talking, they don't feel like talking...
posted by inigo2 at 8:13 AM on September 20, 2006


I don't think this is rude behavior . . . maybe that is because I do this all the time. Don't you ever have days when you don't feel like chatting with anyone/someone in particular?
posted by necessitas at 8:17 AM on September 20, 2006


It was probably a little bit rude because she could have handled it better by either using an away message or saying, "Sorry I'm a bit busy today. Chat later" instead of leaving you hanging. But in the overall picture, I'd let this one slide and not take huge offense to it. She might have just been in a pissy mood and just wasn't in the frame of mind to deal with anything. It happens to everyone.
posted by jerseygirl at 8:17 AM on September 20, 2006


I don't think its entirely rude (not responding) - although saying you were the only one that didn't get it was rather unkind. If you really needed her you should have called, emailed, or perhaps walked in.

Sometimes people get busy with stuff, have management riding them, etc..

This from guy who leaves his IM accounts logged on pretty much 24/7. I like always being connected and nobody knowing whether I'm there or not.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:18 AM on September 20, 2006


if you don't feel like chatting, why would you be online? at least an away message?
posted by timory at 8:19 AM on September 20, 2006


Wait, you're at work, right?
If I'm doing three things at once all day long (as happens on occasion) I'm more interested in just getting things done than IMing and breaking my productive streak.
The difference is - you can still talk to her because you see her often.
The 'offense' is more with the last part of the explanation, that you were the only one who didn't respect her 'privacy' or whatnot. Throw that through the filters of your relationship with her and see if that parses for normal explanation. The way you asked the question tells me it doesn't.
posted by lilithim at 8:20 AM on September 20, 2006


Get thicker skin.
posted by fixedgear at 8:22 AM on September 20, 2006


Not rude. I do this frequently. I leave it up at times if I expecting someone I need to talk to to contact me, ignoring everyone else. Its the same way I look at my caller id on my cell and let it got to voicemail for most people when I am busy.

I am probably like your coworker and would think it is rude of you to bring it up. "Why didn't I respond? Because I am busy which eveyrone else seems to grasp reasonably well" She is not obligated to tell you she is busy, not returning your message is telling you that she doesn't want to talk right now. Its like people who leave 5 messages saying "call me". I got it the first time, I will call you when I am ready too.
posted by stormygrey at 8:24 AM on September 20, 2006


Not rude - you were both at work, and she had work to do.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:27 AM on September 20, 2006


The part about me being the only one that didn't get it didn't offend me because that's her style of communication.

I guess I was off base about this. If the situation were reversed, I would have replied initially with "having a bad day, don't feel like chatting" or something along those lines. I guess I just like things explicit.
posted by bbrown at 8:27 AM on September 20, 2006


Sending someone an IM is not on the same level of engaging someone in a real conversation. People should not have to be held accountable for whether they are seated at the computer and willing to chat or not.

Perhaps she couldn't set an away message because she wasn't away. Perhaps she was having an intense IM conversation with someone else and didn't want to be distracted.

Think of it as if this involved the phone. You call your friend, knowing she's home. She doesn't answer. You call several more times throughout the day. Still no answer. You know she has caller ID. Really the only fair thing that you can surmise is, "Hmm, I guess she really just doesn't feel like talking to me right now." Which seems completely acceptable to me. Especially if the next day you get to talk to her and evverything is fine.

The fact that she was friendly to you afterward proves this. Sometimes people just want to be left alone.
posted by hermitosis at 8:30 AM on September 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's rude. I always have my IM on and I never set an away message. If I'm here and I want to reply I do; if I'm busy or don't feel like it, I don't. I assume the same thing with anyone on my IM list: if I say hi and they don't respond, they're busy or they don't feel like talking. No big deal.

I guess it's sort of like a phone call. I don't expect the other person to pick up if they're busy, not home, or have just turned the ringer off because they want some quiet time. Maybe they check the Caller ID because they want to be available to certain people, and not to others. Same with IM.

I find my more introverted friends prefer IM. It allows them to talk at their own pace, and to not respond to a overture if they don't feel like it, without making the other person uncomfortable, and without having to explain WHY.
posted by Melinika at 8:33 AM on September 20, 2006


Another vote for not rude. This is the reason I have stopped even opening messenger. How the hell does anyone get any work done between surfing mefi and answering IMs? At least I can surf mefi when I know I have a bit of free time!
posted by twistedonion at 8:35 AM on September 20, 2006


rude. Most of IM is appalling rude right now, which is partly why it's not taking off nearly as well in Britain, I suspect. If you're not going to answer, set an away message. And don't just wander off in the middle of the conversation, say bye.
posted by bonaldi at 8:35 AM on September 20, 2006


Not rude.
posted by jdroth at 8:35 AM on September 20, 2006


She didn't feel like talking yesterday. No big deal.

She won't be your friend much longer if you berate her over something as trivial as this. Besides, if you truly needed to talk to her, you could have walked over there.
posted by unixrat at 8:37 AM on September 20, 2006


if you don't feel like chatting, why would you be online? at least an away message?

I'm on IM pretty much whenever my computer's on and I usually have an away message set. It's like voice mail, people can leave messages and if things are really important, I can get on them quickly. This is great for stuff like MeFi where there's a big difference between someone asking "hey when you get a chance, listen to the new song I uploaded" and "OMG goatse on the front page." The latter is the reason I leave my IM window open.

While it wasn't super rude of your friend, it is polite to have an away message. Sometimes the subtle message can be "I was leaving my IM window open to talk to someone *else* and not to talk to you" which is just sort of a fact of life with IM, the same as people sometimes just drifting away from what may feel to you like a back and forth conversation.
posted by jessamyn at 8:38 AM on September 20, 2006


I'd say its rude. I leave my IM connected 24/7, and have it setup to give an away message after 5 minutes idle, or manually with Ctrl+Alt+Z when ever I'm busy. You can still talk to the people you really want to whilst set away, so theres no reason not to. Having said all of that, if you work with her then yeah, you should've just gone over there.
posted by Orange Goblin at 8:46 AM on September 20, 2006


On the communications priority scale, Instant Messages are somewhere between "automated sales call" and "sitting in the bleachers with a rainbow wig and a John 3:16 sign"

Ignoring IMs is perfectly acceptable and one does not need an explanation for doing so. If your IMs are ignored you should accept that your friend had a perfectly good reason for doing so and you should not take it personally. In fact, your friend probably did you a favor by not chatting while she was in a pissy mood. That can only lead to trouble.

Just because you have the ability to make an icon blink on somebody's screen it doesn't mean you're entitled to a response.

This is only my opinion, but I hope one day to make it international policy.
posted by bondcliff at 8:50 AM on September 20, 2006 [5 favorites]


Shrug - there are no conventions for this sort of thing, which is why it seems to be kinda split as to whether it's rude/not rude. Personally, I do this all the time. I have trillian start up with my computer, and leave it logged in all day, because my computer is on 24/7. My friends know that I do this, and that I may or may not be there when they IM me, so they just assume that I either can't talk, or am not there if I don't respond. Rudeness all comes down to expectations, I suppose.
posted by antifuse at 8:54 AM on September 20, 2006


Would you consider that rude?

No. It's an IM. If you wanted a respone, you should have called her. An IM is the laziest way to talk to someone. As such, your expectations for a response should be much lower.
posted by chunking express at 8:59 AM on September 20, 2006


Not rude. There could be many reasons why she didn't type an away message. Maybe there was someone she needed to talk to if that person showed up on line.
It's like leaving messages on an answering machine. Several messages, even when you know the person is at home does not imply rudeness on the receiver's part. It can mean a lot of things.
And you might consider whether repeatedly sending a message was rude when the person was not replying.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:07 AM on September 20, 2006


I have AIM on my phone (Sidekick) , and sometimes coworkers react negatively when I don't respond right away to notices. I've had to explain, several times now, that I can't IM while I am driving. Sometimes there is going to be a long delay, even if I am technically "online".

I've had system down notices via IM. Seriously, why would someone send critical information via the lowest-priority medium? On some level, I find *that* rude.

If it is important, call. If we are both at work, talk to me in person.
posted by Invoke at 9:08 AM on September 20, 2006


I definitely prefer to see away messages, but don't feel slighted if someone fails to answer my IMs. I do sometimes wish that IM had a built in 'hey, got a minute' kind of function that would let people choose or not choose to receive any given 'IM call' like the choice to answer a ringing phone.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:08 AM on September 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Not rude. Though it would be more polite (and informative) to set an away message.
posted by adamrice at 9:09 AM on September 20, 2006


If the situation were reversed, I would have replied initially with "having a bad day, don't feel like chatting" or something along those lines. I guess I just like things explicit.

This is a fascinating thread to me, because I don't use IM, so I don't really understand IM culture. But I'm reminded of an older thread (which I can't find, sorry) about dating.

Someone asked whether you are required to call someone, after a first date, and tell them that you don't want a second date. Or is it okay to just cut off contact and assume they'll get the point?

I'm old world. I'd be scandalized if someone didn't call me (God, I'm glad I'm not in the dating pool), but I was surprised to see that I was in the minority. Most people felt that non-communication was an acceptable form of communication.

I don't think this will ever sit well in my gut, but I'm coming round to the fact that my way isn't the only way. It's possible for a specific group/culture to set up a norm that allows non-communication to be polite. And it sounds like you and your co-worker have different norms.

The majority here seem to feel that it's okay to just not reply when you're busy. I couldn't do this myself, and I'd be a little upset if someone else did it to me, but reading the posts here makes me feel a bit better. It makes me understand that my perceptions of rudeness are probably just my perceptions. No one is INTENDING rudeness.

It would be nice if people on the other side of the fence could be understanding. I AM quite offended by your co-worker's chide that you were the "only one who didn't get it." She should try to understand YOUR norms. I don't think she should bend her IM behavior to suit your needs. But I do think she should be a little more understanding of your feelings.

One of the reasons I shy away from IM, is because I often need to be undisturbed. But I can't deal with ignoring people. This is also why I rarely use the phone.

I love email. I love it, because it's a disjointed form of communication in which no one expects you to get back to them the instant after they get write something to you.
posted by grumblebee at 9:17 AM on September 20, 2006 [3 favorites]


Not rude. There are good reasons why you can't set an away message. I use IM at work all day for communicating with coworkers and friends alike. Since coworkers need to be able to reach me, I can't say I'm away.

I may be logged in, but I'm still at work, and I'm not obligated to drop everything and chat with every person that sends me a message. I also have a mobile phone, and it's on all the time. That doesn't mean I have to answer every phone call as it comes in.

People aren't always going to be available. They don't owe you an explanation for that.
posted by Gamblor at 9:17 AM on September 20, 2006


I agree with Chunking Express. If I IM someone and they don't respond, it's no big deal. And, if I really need a response, I pick up the phone and call the person and bother them that way.

Personally, if I really don't want to chat or am doing something else and don't want to be distracted, I don't even turn on the IM.
posted by Raymond Marble at 9:17 AM on September 20, 2006


I don't think the not responding thing in and of itself is rude, but your friend could have considered a nicer way of saying they didn't want to talk. You, after all, are probably not a mind reader. (If you are, kindly refrain from reading my mind between 5 and 7 on Thursdays, thanks)

I leave my IM on a lot and sometimes don’t put up an away or busy message. I don’t necessarily want to chat, but will make exceptions (i.e. for flirty cute girl du jour). Among my friends, IM is more like voicemail anyway. “Hey Chickenjack! When you get a chance, check out this UTube video of a monkey playing the Wii! It’s teh roxxors! Also I respecd my Paladin!”

Hmm, maybe I need some new friends…
posted by Chickenjack at 9:21 AM on September 20, 2006


Just because you have the ability to make an icon blink on somebody's screen it doesn't mean you're entitled to a response.

Agreed. (I hate IM partly because of the presumption that if a message pops up you're supposed to respond immediately. E-mail is much more civilized.)
posted by languagehat at 9:25 AM on September 20, 2006


Wow. I guess I'm in the minority since I think it's kind of rude. At least use the "away" feature or a quick "-sorry I can't talk right now" would be nice. I really do think it's like talking to someone and having them completely ignore you.

Also, I've found that my DSL goes in and out and sometimes people don't get my IMs - and sometimes I don't get theirs - so quite frequently I don't know if it's that I'm being ignored or the DSL line is being flakey.

That said, I wouldn't freak out about it either. Sometimes there are rude people and the rest of us have to put up with it.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:26 AM on September 20, 2006


Definitely not rude, but then again I come from a line of thought that says you don't have to leap for every ringing phone and that someone knocking on your door who you do not expect can be completely ignored. So I suspect you and I would be friends for about 21 seconds.

Your technical or physical ability to try to initiate contact with me does not demand I accept. That's why phones ring rather than go off-hook automatically.
posted by phearlez at 9:32 AM on September 20, 2006


I'm in agreement that it was rude. It is a conversation, no matter what the medium. A quick explanation or simple away message would not have been hard.
posted by bristolcat at 9:36 AM on September 20, 2006


That's why phones ring rather than go off-hook automatically.

Yes, but IM isn't a phone. Treating it like one is taking the piss. (In fact, even with phones I know most people let it ring out rather than press the red button and have the caller later ask "why did you reject me?")

IM automatically answers, and the caller knows you are there. And you know they know you are there, so it's like them whispering to you, and you point-blank ignoring them. If oyu want them to go away, say so.

In future, I might actually start my IMs [ring ring] or something.
posted by bonaldi at 9:42 AM on September 20, 2006


Wait, wouldn't it be even ruder to send someone an IM, knowing they were at work, whether their IM client was open or not? Or am I missing something here? I know that would certainly be frowned upon in my workplace, but then nobody would be foolhardy enough to use software like that in the environment I work in.
posted by luriete at 9:42 AM on September 20, 2006


Wow, the response here is fascinating. I marked grumblebee's answer as the best because I think it has implications for both sides. I needed to realize that other people view non-communication as neutral communication (which is completely foreign to me) and I certainly do now.
posted by bbrown at 9:45 AM on September 20, 2006


luriete: it's an internal instant messaging system. We're required to have it running.
posted by bbrown at 9:45 AM on September 20, 2006


I have IM on at work so I can be contacted by coworkers -- not so my friends can pop up bullshit on my screen every 5 minutes while I'm trying to work. Sometimes, and more often than not, depending on who it is, I will respond because I have free time and don't mind catching up, but I don't feel obligated to reply -- especially since half the time that leads to a conversation long enough to make getting back in the zone difficult.

away messages don't work for me because it's a PITA to set or change them, and, as I menitoned above, I am available to people at work.

I've had to set my account to be invisible to some folks who do not get this and don't understand when a conversation should end (ie, 5 to 15 minutes after it starts, if I'm at work, and you're not a coworker).

awhile ago I read a great piece on the "cultural divide in IM" (that I'm goddamned surprised I found again) that describes mostly how I feel about IM -- although unlike the author, I don't believe I owe you anything -- not a "can't talk", nothing -- just because I'm logged in.*

* then again I am a MEGA ASSHOLE
posted by fishfucker at 9:50 AM on September 20, 2006


Not really rude. However, this:

...and that I was the only one who didn't get it.

is rude. What a bitchy thing to say...
posted by hototogisu at 9:51 AM on September 20, 2006


IM automatically answers, and the caller knows you are there.

Absolutely untrue. IM pings the recipient, just like a ringing phone. You don't know if the person is at their keyboard or not.

Honestly, if anyone is being rude, it's the person who keeps sending messages to someone when they haven't responded and expects them to drop everything to talk to them. I get crap like this during the workday from my friends all the time:

Them: Dude!
Them: Hey! Dude!
Them: You there?
Them: Dooooooood!!!
Me: WHAT?!?
Them: Nuthin'. Just saying hey.

I second fishfucker's entire comment. The fact that I'm logged in (especially when I'm at work) does not mean that I owe you anything. Be respectful of your friend's time, you're not entitled to have instant access to them 24 hours a day.
posted by Gamblor at 10:00 AM on September 20, 2006


Another vote for not rude. I'm logged into AIM all day via my Sidekick, and most people know that if I don't respond right away the phone is in my pocket or I'm driving or doing something else. I never set an away message because then I can't quickly scan messages that have been left.

A lot of people on my buddy list use Sidekicks as well, and it is not uncommon for a conversation to sync up like:

  • get first message
  • notice it 10 minutes later, respond
  • get a response back after 5 minutes
  • respond after 2 minutes
  • continue into real-time conversation

    Strangers who IM me sometimes seem to take it personally if I don't respond the instant they message - I think their assumption is I'm either sitting at a computer or dropping everything everytime my phone makes a beep.

  • posted by mikepop at 10:03 AM on September 20, 2006


    Why are you people using the same IM account for work as for all your doodz? Don't you have more than one phone number?

    Gamblor: in this case, the OP very much knew this person was online.
    posted by bonaldi at 10:14 AM on September 20, 2006


    I responded quickly earlier, but let me be a bit more verbose here. The environment here is work, not home. You were engaging in not-work conversation, during work hours. the other person was busy with work.

    Her ignoring you is perfectly acceptable.

    I suggest strongly that the discourse above would have been markedly different if you were both on computers in your separate homes, not at work.

    If the question had been about not responding to an IM when you were both 'on', at home, then yes she should have either responded or set her IM to 'away'

    but work IM? that should be for work-related IM's only.
    posted by seawallrunner at 10:15 AM on September 20, 2006


    I'd consider it rude, but I think I have an old-fashioned view of communications. I don't think it's rude to say "sorry, can't chat now, busy" and then ignore further messages, but just to ignore them all... a bit rude.

    On the other hand, if I send someone an IM and get no response, I usually just follow up with "guess you're away/busy now, catch you later." I don't assume someone's blowing me off if I get no response, because it's not unusual to leave the IRC/IM client up and move away from the computer.

    And there's the problem of "I signed in to talk to X and Y is bugging the crap out of me.."

    But, I think it's rude because it wouldn't have killed the person to just say "busy working, can't chat now, thanks."
    posted by jzb at 10:21 AM on September 20, 2006


    seawallrunner: Work is fine with non-work related instant messaging. Also, we generally have very disjointed conversations as work requires attention. The day without reply was unprecedented. That's what threw me for a loop.
    posted by bbrown at 10:24 AM on September 20, 2006


    I think some of this might stem from where people's roots are with instant messaging / chatting.

    People like me grew up with IRC. Sure, ICQ and AIM and eventually MSN were around, and we might have even used them, but my IRC client is logged in and idling 24/7.

    Without some shmancy script, IRC generally doesnt have an away feature. Some people might change their nick from "utsutsu" to "utsutAWAY" but most people just leave it. If you're not sure if someone is around, you msg them and see if they respond. On some servers you can even find their idle time through a /whois command.

    I installed MSN because everyone used it at College. The only thing I use it for today is talking to old College friends or talking to my young nephews, since it is all they know. When I am logged in, I am eternally away and you have to send me a message to determine if I'm around / willing to talk. Functionally, this ends up working a lot like lurking on IRC does.

    I guess years ago, I just got sick of being "on call" for all these different devices or chat networks.
    posted by utsutsu at 10:30 AM on September 20, 2006


    She said that she wanted to be left alone yesterday and that I was the only one who didn't get it.

    well, you didn't get it

    there was a time when people weren't available to each other electronically 24/7 ... back then, people did not think it was rude when someone's phone was left off the hook or it just wasn't answered by someone, even if it was reasonably certain they were home

    why should im be any different?
    posted by pyramid termite at 10:31 AM on September 20, 2006


    I agree wholeheartedly with everything grumblebee says. Not responding is incredibly rude and I find that it unfortunately is symptomatic of my age group (<30). I am incredibly busy as is everyone else and there may be delays in responding but I always respond. Someone annoying you? "I am busy I cannot talk right now." Don't want to date someone?, "Sorry I'm not looking for a relationship." Simple, polite and much better than a Donald Trump-esque "I am better than you and thus do not have to respond."
    posted by geoff. at 10:33 AM on September 20, 2006


    Absolutely untrue. IM pings the recipient, just like a ringing phone. You don't know if the person is at their keyboard or not.

    Yes, but with automatically triggered Away-status updates, there is the clear notion that someone has been at their keyboard in the last 10 or 20 or whatever minutes.

    And more damning, seeing their status flick from Away to Available tells you that they are almost certainly at their keyboard right at that moment.

    I used to use IM all the time in college—ICQ was in fullon The Big Thing mode, for example—but I dropped it because I got sick of that always-on feeling, the mild invasiveness of being in a sense watched by people you may or may not feel like talking to when you sit down at your computer. I found, for one thing, that I simply didn't like idle chatter over IM anymore than I like idle chatter over the phone. It doesn't keep me engaged.
    posted by cortex at 10:43 AM on September 20, 2006


    You aren't alone: I too find it kinda rude. Apparently other people don't think it is, and I understand that logically, but I still find it obnoxious. Not enough to make a thing out of it, but yeah.
    posted by dame at 10:48 AM on September 20, 2006


    I consider it rude but that's mainly because if it was me that was busy I'd either set an away message, disconnect the client (after all, connecting and being online is broadcasting your abilities to accept other peoples messages) or say "sorry, bit busy now, can we chat later?" and leave it at that.

    And yes, I use MSN at work on my PC and on my PDA so I'm connected pretty much all the time.

    Mind you, I'm approaching 30 so maybe it has something to do with my age since a lot of the people considering it acceptable seem to be younger.
    posted by mr_silver at 10:52 AM on September 20, 2006


    bondali: IM automatically answers, and the caller knows you are there. And you know they know you are there, so it's like them whispering to you, and you point-blank ignoring them. If oyu want them to go away, say so.

    Assuming that they are actually sitting at their desk, the IM program is in the foreground, and everything is working nominally. Perhaps it's because I've been a veteran of IRC, chat, talk, and bitnet going back to the 80s, but this notion that we can safely assume rude intent because someone didn't answer a message is rather absurd.
    posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:09 AM on September 20, 2006


    KirkJobSulder: That isn't what happened here. The sender knew the reciever was at her desk, and that she wasn't responding to the pings. This isn't 80s IRC.
    posted by bonaldi at 11:17 AM on September 20, 2006


    Mind you, I'm approaching 30 so maybe it has something to do with my age since a lot of the people considering it acceptable seem to be younger.

    "Respond to all IMs!" could be the new "Hey you kids, get off my lawn!".

    I'm well over 30, and I didn't consider it rude. I don't know why you think age would be a factor. Familiarity with and amount of time using the technology might be, though, imo. And as people have said many times previously in this thread, for lots of folks at work, setting your status to away isn't a viable option.

    It just seems like the OP is taking a pretty innocuous event and reading too much into it. It's not a personal insult when somebody doesn't feel like chatting with you at work. They're at work presumably working. They don't owe anyone an explanation as to why they can't shoot the breeze.
    posted by Gamblor at 11:19 AM on September 20, 2006


    I think it's rude mainly because there are plenty of services offered by AIM to allow people who need alone time to be left alone while still running AIM. I don't want to waste my time IMing someone if they don't want to be IMed. The best way for me to "get it" is to either be told "hey, I'm busy today, will IM you back when I can chat" or to receive an away/idle message. If she had wanted you to leave her alone, her responding to your first IM with such a message would have accomplished her goal of being left alone much more easily. But silent treatment is not all that effective when the two aprties aren't in the same roon. Instead, she was bothered by you IMing her all day, and you were bothered by her not responding for no discernable reason. Everyone lost.

    Just because the technology is new doesn't mean old standards of behavior can be ignored. In the future, she should use an away message, or at least be more frank, and you should let it be after one or two of your IMs are not responded to.
    posted by apple scruff at 11:26 AM on September 20, 2006


    I don't see why she couldn't have said, once and politely, "Busy today, not IM'ing, talk to you later," and then ignored any subsequent messages the OP might have sent. "Get the hint" behavior is just rude.
    posted by jenfullmoon at 11:26 AM on September 20, 2006


    I think much of the difficulty here is that there may be some presumption that a standard of discourse exists for IM use in the same way that it does for face-to-face conversation.

    While it's not an absolute, we can say in general that two people standing and talking to one another have a common understanding of how the communication is supposed to work—they're operating according to the same (or similar) models of the situation. That's partly because both parties have spent years and years in spoken conversation, and have been forced in that time to pick up on cues and dynamics in the process.

    Whereas IM is (1) new, and (2) doesn't provide such a direct experience of feedback—you cannot easily observe how someone else reacts to your IM behavior, and vice versa. So folks in general have had less time to learn other people's models of IM communication, and have had less opportunity to learn details in what time they've had.

    The result is that what I think of as a standard of communication behavior in IM is much more likely to be different from what you think of as standard, as compared to spoken conversation. And, key to all this, I will have much less capacity to know when you're puzzled by my behavior—you'll have to explicitly tell me, via IM, what you don't understand and what you expect, for me to know. I can't see you raise an eyebrow; I can't hear you stall in speech.

    Rudeness in conversation is generally describable as an observed breach of mutually understood standards of civility and conversational etiquette. With unknowably different sets of standards and etiquette, the perception of rudeness in electronic discussion is inevitable.
    posted by cortex at 11:29 AM on September 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


    apple scruff: In the future, she should use an away message, or at least be more frank, and you should let it be after one or two of your IMs are not responded to.

    60 comments distilled down into one take-home message.
    posted by Gamblor at 11:41 AM on September 20, 2006


    bondali: That isn't what happened here. The sender knew the reciever was at her desk, and that she wasn't responding to the pings. This isn't 80s IRC.

    How do we know this? (Correct answer: We don't you made an assumption.) Not all synchronous CMC software has an automatic "away from keyboard" or a time-out function. To name three that don't: Active Worlds, Skype and Gmail chat. When you come across a "zombie" in CMC, the polite response is to assume that they are busy with other things, or perhaps having technical difficulties.

    I have to go with Miss Manners on this one. If it is acceptable to screen phone calls, or not pick up the phone when busy, it is acceptable to screen IMs or not answer the IM when a conversation is not desired. Hanging up a "do not distrub" sign is nice, but not necessary.

    apple scruff: Instead, she was bothered by you IMing her all day, and you were bothered by her not responding for no discernable reason.

    And how do we know that she was bothered by this? (The correct answer is: We don't, and you made an assumption.)

    Just because the technology is new doesn't mean old standards of behavior can be ignored.

    There is no "old standard of behavior" which says that one must inconvencience ones self to answer the door, the telephone, or any other message with a quick response. Therefore there is no "new standard of behavior" which says we can safely assume that a failure to respond in IM is a snub.

    In summary:

    Is it rude to not leave an "away from keyboard" message? No.

    Is it rude to not respond to IMs in a timely manner? No.

    Is it rude to accuse those who do not respond to IMs in a timely manner of ill behavior? YES.
    posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:46 AM on September 20, 2006


    Is it rude to keep getting a name wrong after a gentle prod?

    How do we know this? (Correct answer: We don't you made an assumption.)
    We know this because we can read the thread.

    There is no "old standard of behavior" which says that one must inconvencience ones self to answer the door, the telephone, or any other message with a quick response.
    I'll give you that IM can be variable, but if you send an IM to someone across the office, it's virtually the same as whispering to them. You're starting a conversation with someone you know is listening. To not reply is to point blank ignore them, not even saying "busy!".

    In this office we do it with one character -- a semicolon -- because it saves people the effort of having to try again later in case you're about for chat.

    Isn't that what politeness is mostly about? Saving other people from confusion and needless effort?
    posted by bonaldi at 11:55 AM on September 20, 2006


    Today, she was fairly chatty so I asked about her behavior. She said that she wanted to be left alone yesterday and that I was the only one who didn't get it.

    You don't get on IM to be left alone.
    posted by anonpeon at 12:20 PM on September 20, 2006


    You don't get on IM to be left alone.

    You don't go out of your way to get on IM to be left alone, sure. But if you get on IM automatically every time you start your computer, that's not going out of your way.
    posted by cortex at 12:48 PM on September 20, 2006


    KirkJobSluder writes "And how do we know that she was bothered by this?"

    Because she later said she had wanted to be left alone.

    "There is no 'old standard of behavior' which says that one must inconvencience ones self to answer the door, the telephone, or any other message with a quick response."

    There is a difference between instant messaging, and the telephone, and the doorbell. Doorbells are always attached to the house, whether or not the resident is at home, and phones will always ring. The main difference is that having IM active gives the implicit impression that the user is open to talk, unless of course they state otherwise.
    posted by apple scruff at 12:57 PM on September 20, 2006


    And more damning, seeing their status flick from Away to Available tells you that they are almost certainly at their keyboard right at that moment.

    Or their cat walked across their keyboard. Or their coworker grabbed a document off their desk and jostled the mouse. Or (in the case of one of my computers still running an older OS) the email client fired up to check incoming messages, as it does every 15 minutes, but the IM client auto-idles after 10 minutes...

    In a professional setting, I think it's best that any sender understands that work-related messages will be prioritized over personal messages *especially* when used on an employer's internal messaging system AND it never hurts anyone to offer more status information at work than none at all.
    posted by jamaro at 1:02 PM on September 20, 2006


    I should point out that I am somewhat older than many of my co-workers, did not use IM during college (it didn't exist as we know it now), and use IM primarily for keeping in touch with co-workers in other locations, as well as friends outside of work.

    That being said, I actually find it quite rude to IM someone five cubes away rather than walking over to ask them a question. I find IM quite distracting as it is, especially when I'm working on other tasks, and try to use it as sparingly as possible. To a large degree this is my problem, as I still find it easier to talk with someone while working than carry on an IM conversation, but at the same time I think that actually speaking to someone directly is more sociable.
    posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:08 PM on September 20, 2006


    Since when is one obligated to answering an IM? I don't see anything wrong with the other person's behavior.

    Sometimes technology is far too intrusive.
    posted by Doohickie at 1:28 PM on September 20, 2006


    And this falls to one of the uber-rules of netiquette that has been advocated since the 80s: Always give the other person benefit of the doubt.

    bonaldi: Is it rude to keep getting a name wrong after a gentle prod?

    You proded? I've been exposed to so many mispellings of my name in 30-odd years that I don't even see them any more. Now that you've politely brought it to my attention, I'll be more careful.

    We know this because we can read the thread.

    There is no evidence in this thread to support these claims.

    I'll give you that IM can be variable, but if you send an IM to someone across the office, it's virtually the same as whispering to them.

    Why does across the office matter as opposed to across the city or the country?

    I would argue that the presence in the same office actually undermines your claim. If I wanted to "whisper in the ear" of someone across the office, and I needed an immediate response, I'd walk over there and actually whisper in their ear.

    If its inappropriate for me to whisper in their ear (such as during a meeting) then it's inappropriate for me to send an IM as well.

    Perhaps this has to do with varying scales of urgency, in my view: Email < IM < Telephone < Verbal. I expect IMs to only be answered if there is not something more pressing, and to be immediately terminated (perhaps without warning) in favor of more urgent matters. If IM gets ignored or interrupted, no matter. The message is in their buffer, and they can IM me back when they are free.

    You're starting a conversation with someone you know is listening.

    Again, how do I know this? All I know is that I sent a message. They might have their chat client minimized and working on something else. They might be intensely engaged in a private conversation on another channel. I can't assume that "they are listening." In most offices I work, I can't even see the other person at their workstation. Again, Always give the other person the benefit of the doubt. This is a simple rule that if practiced, would quell much unintentional office politics, internet flames, and online relationship angst.

    In this office we do it with one character -- a semicolon -- because it saves people the effort of having to try again later in case you're about for chat.

    Isn't that what politeness is mostly about? Saving other people from confusion and needless effort


    This is nice, I've not said otherwise. My point is that there are a variety of reasons why this should not be demanded. They might be away from the desk, juggling phone calls, or just reserving IM for that critical contact.

    It's really quite simple and not at all confusing. If a person does not respond after a minute (equivalent to about 6 rings of the telephone) then they are not open for chatting with me. There is no needless effort. One message in the inbox is just as good as six. And if it is urgent, I will walk across the office to talk. Much of this angst could have been avoided if the OP had just walked over to assess the person's mood and availability.

    apple scruff: Because she later said she had wanted to be left alone.

    This only means that she wanted to be left alone. Not that she was "bothered." She could have just left IM in the background the entire time with the sound off.

    Which is the whole problem with this discussion. Too many people making assumptions. Always give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

    The main difference is that having IM active gives the implicit impression that the user is open to talk, unless of course they state otherwise.

    Responding to my messages gives the impression that the user is open to talk (to me). Otherwise, it seems that the best way to deal with this is to send a query message, and not jump to assumptions if I don't get a response.

    My goodness! All of this, "you didn't respond to my IM, were you blowing me off?" sounds so high school and unprofessional. Did I suddenly get teleported out of Ask Metafilter and into a Sweet Valley High book? For that matter, this is not even high school, I have 4th and 5th graders in a space who understand that a person might be logged on but not able to talk for various reasons.
    posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:04 PM on September 20, 2006


    Thanks for that link, fishfucker.

    Now, let's go back to the people who come online just to talk. The problem with this group is that they're unintentionally exerting power. They are declaring their free time by logging on and they're assuming that i am signaling the same thing. But i'm not. This is simply cultural cluelessness.


    Well put.
    posted by languagehat at 2:13 PM on September 20, 2006


    Saying you were the only one that didn't get it was rather unkind.

    It would be nice if people on the other side of the fence could be understanding. I AM quite offended by your co-worker's chide that you were the "only one who didn't get it." She should try to understand YOUR norms. I don't think she should bend her IM behavior to suit your needs. But I do think she should be a little more understanding of your feelings.


    Allkindsoftime and Grumblebee, you said it best/first.
    posted by mynameismandab at 2:14 PM on September 20, 2006


    It's really quite simple and not at all confusing. If a person does not respond after a minute (equivalent to about 6 rings of the telephone) then they are not open for chatting with me. There is no needless effort.

    Yes. If this situation was "I IMd her, she ignored me, and I'm miffed", I'd agree with you.

    But the OP IMd her, she ignored him. He tried again later. She ignored him. He tried again later. She ignored him. This went on multiple times throughout the day -- he phoned again and again to see if she was in, if you like. (see the needless effort now?)

    In the "it's OK not to answer an IM world", he still did the right thing! He should have got the message after about six times, but she should have told him after the first that she wasn't chatting.
    posted by bonaldi at 3:15 PM on September 20, 2006


    That's what makes it so infuriating. You know she's at her desk, so why is it OK for her to have you keep circling around her trying to IM at a "good time", when she could just tell you "not now"?

    Utterly selfish. Hence rude.
    posted by bonaldi at 3:17 PM on September 20, 2006


    let me get this straight: if you IM someone, they are duty bound to respond to you to make your life easier?

    see, i'd see *that* as selfish.
    posted by fishfucker at 3:47 PM on September 20, 2006


    No. If you IM someone repeatedly, they'd be polite to tell you they're not answering.

    Especially if there's no difference in your etiquette between not answering because you're busy, or can't be bothered, or are not actually wanting to use IM that day, despite being logged on.
    posted by bonaldi at 4:00 PM on September 20, 2006



    No. If you IM someone repeatedly, they'd be polite to tell you they're not answering.


    agreed -- that's being considerate.

    However, I'd dispute that the opposite of that is ignoring someone, and doing so means that person is being rude. FWIW, the only people I tend to ignore don't understand that distinction. If they IM me, they want a response within a few minutes or they get frustrated. I think that's what most of ourselves on the "other" side of this issue are saying: just because I appear constantly available should not imply that I am always available for you. A reply or an away message is a courtesy, not a requirement.
    posted by fishfucker at 4:18 PM on September 20, 2006


    bonaldi: This great link provides a great and detailed explanation as to why you are just being silly.

    Yes. If this situation was "I IMd her, she ignored me, and I'm miffed", I'd agree with you.

    I don't see how this is different.

    But the OP IMd her, she ignored him. He tried again later. She ignored him. He tried again later. She ignored him. This went on multiple times throughout the day -- he phoned again and again to see if she was in, if you like. (see the needless effort now?)

    Well, yes I see the needless effort. The question is, why is she responsible for his needless effort? Or for that matter, if she is busy with higher priority tasks or not in the mood to deal with social conversation, is she responsible for catering to a needed effort?

    By analogy am I responsible for the effort (needed or unneeded, depending on your point of view) of telemarketers who call me during my working hours? If your message does not meet with my needs, why should I answer it?

    That's what makes it so infuriating. You know she's at her desk, so why is it OK for her to have you keep circling around her trying to IM at a "good time", when she could just tell you "not now"?

    As a general rule, I can't make assumptions about the physical presence or attention of a person based on their IM availability. Some people have 24/7 IM presence with messages filtered and forwarded to phones and pagers. Some people keep their clients running all day in the background and check when they have time. In some chat systems, wizards may be on all day but not immediately responsive.

    You can not assume, as a general rule, that the recipient of an internet message is able or interested in responding to your message in a short period of time.

    Utterly selfish. Hence rude.

    Well, actually, politeness is based on the principle that the other person has a right to be selfish about some things. They have a right to be selfish about their privacy in regards to personal questions. They have a right to be selfish about their time in regards to answering invitations. And they have a right to be selfish in not answering your phone calls and instant messages.

    And this is where the basic uber-rule of netiquette comes into play, give the other person the benefit of the doubt. There are dozens of reasons why a person might not respond to your message, only a handful involve outright rudness.
    posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:35 PM on September 20, 2006


    A reply or an away message is a courtesy, not a requirement.
    But the opposite of courteous is ... well, it's on a scale from brusque to rude. She did the opposite of the courteous thing, and trying to argue that wasn't brusque/rude is illogical.

    KirkJobSluder: I don't know if you noticed, but your great link completely undermines you. Quote:
    As an always-on'r, when someone pokes me to talk and i don't have time, i say sorry - can't talk or some equivalent (except in the case of my phone which might appear to be on while i'm doing something but isn't really). I expect the same from my fellow always-on'rs
    Bbrown is an Always-Onr, as is his colleague.

    The question is, why is she responsible for his needless effort?
    WTF? Because she could quickly and easily put an end to it. She chose not to. Rude.
    posted by bonaldi at 5:32 PM on September 20, 2006


    for lots of folks at work, setting your status to away isn't a viable option.

    Understandable, but I don't see why this has to be such a take-sides issue.

    Let's say I invite someone to a party; he says he'll come and then doesn't. I confront him the next day, asking why he didn't come, and he says, "Jesus Christ, you motherfucker! I was sick!"

    His illness is an acceptable excuse, but his rude retort is unacceptable. Why didn't he just say, "I'm sorry I didn't show up. I was sick"? Even better would have been the same apology, but coming from him first, without me having to ask him why he didn't come. But I'll accept the former.

    If bbrown's coworker is forced to run IM software while she's busy -- fair enough. She shouldn't be required to answer people. But when he confronted her the next day, why did she chide him? Why not just say, "I'm sorry. I was busy?"

    As you can see in this thread, some people feel that IM-ing requires an answer; some feel that it doesn't. Can a reasonable person really believe that their are etiquette ABSOLUTES? Surely all etiquette is custom. And clearly, not all people share the same customs. So we need to be sensitive to that fact.

    bbrown needs to learn that silence doesn't necessarily imply rudeness; his co-worker needs to learn that some people are offended by silence.
    posted by grumblebee at 5:33 PM on September 20, 2006


    But the opposite of courteous is ... well, it's on a scale from brusque to rude. She did the opposite of the courteous thing, and trying to argue that wasn't brusque/rude is illogical.

    well, before we begin a logical argument, we'd need to agree on the givens.

    if I understand you correctly, you are saying that "answering" is polite and that "not answering" is the opposite of answering, and the opposite of politeness is rudeness. I'm not particularly sturdy on my symbolic logic, but that would be a set of givens something like A = not B and B = not A, and A = P, and not P = R.
    well, sure, in this case, we can say, well, let's start with rude, R.
    R = not P.
    R = not A
    R = B


    Well, I agree that A = P, but I don't agree that A is the opposite of B, hell, I don't even agree that not P = R*. So unless my, uh, reasoning is incorrect (which is may well be -- i took that course many many years ago), there shouldn't be any real logical restrictions on my argument. Semantic and rhetorical ones, sure, but not logical.

    Just because doing something is polite (holding the door open for someone who's rather far away) doesn't mean doing what the opposite is rude (letting the door close). What might be rude in this case is closing the door right on someone who's trying to walk in. Well, that, to me, would be the equivalent of this person IMing back "HEY FUCK YOU GUY, I DON'T WANT TO TALK AND I'VE NEVER FUCKING LIKED YOU ANYWAYS". For you, it's simply ignoring the IM in the first place.

    I'm OK with that. I'll be sure never to ignore your IMs.

    Kisses.

    * As I wrote somewhat poorly above, However, I'd dispute that the opposite of that is ignoring someone, and doing so means that person is being rude.
    posted by fishfucker at 6:34 PM on September 20, 2006


    I think the difference between multiple phone calls and multiple IMs is that IMs leave a record (as do multiple phone calls if there's an answering maching). Leave a message once, and let the person reply at their convenience.
    posted by jacquilynne at 6:50 PM on September 20, 2006


    it occurs to me that all you and I are doing, bonaldi, is illustrating the principle set forth by grumblebee.

    So i retract my kisses. :',(
    posted by fishfucker at 8:28 PM on September 20, 2006


    You've lost me there ff, and I'm roaringly too drunk to do logic now or remember what I meant, but I do know that ...

    grumblebee: etiqueete can be a culture thing, but courtesy is a universal absolute -- it's going out of one's way to help anotrher. This person wasn't courteous, and a glaring lack of courtesy when it would cost you virtually nothing is pretty close to rudeness in my book.
    posted by bonaldi at 8:43 PM on September 20, 2006


    She shouldn't be required to answer people. But when he confronted her the next day, why did she chide him? Why not just say, "I'm sorry. I was busy?"

    bbrown himself has already said:
    The part about me being the only one that didn't get it didn't offend me because that's her style of communication.

    So, we really shouldn't be discussing whether or not *that* was rude, as that's not what he was asking :)

    Some people are making the phone anaology here; I look at it this way: if you know I'm home, but I don't pick up the phone when you call (and presumably leave a message), you don't have to call me back every hour to see if I'm going to call you back. I'll call you back when I have time, and it's not my responsibility to pick up the phone on the 11th call and say "Listen, I can't talk right now, I'm busy" - if nothing else, it disrupts the flow of my work (presuming I'm working), and at the very worst, it opens me up to you saying "But wait, I just need to ask you this and this and this and this".
    posted by antifuse at 3:48 AM on September 21, 2006


    we really shouldn't be discussing whether or not *that* was rude

    The trouble with threads like this is that they can never be more than polls (which might not be a problem, if polls are what you want).

    Whether or not something is rude comes down to local custom. It's not rude for me to NOT bow to my boss, Ben (in fact, he might think I was making a rude, ironic gesture if I DID bow to him). But if Ben was my JAPANESE boss, it would be right to bow to him.

    You can say that the specifics, e.g. bowing, might change, but the general rules, e.g. deference to a superior, remain stable, but that's not true. In the corporate culture of MY company, there is no tradition of deference. We all do our jobs and Ben makes the major decisions, but we don't do any version of bowing -- we don't call him "sir" or anything like that.

    Some polite gestures are practical (giving up your seat for a handicapped person); others are just customary (holding the door for a lady, saying "bless you" after someone sneezes). The "practicality" of a polite gesture MIGHT be just a way of communicating the message of "I share your cultural norms and you can expect me to follow them."

    So the answer to the question asked at the top of this thread is "yes."

    Or "no."

    We are no longer living in a world in which people mostly hang out with others who are just like them. The world is getting smaller every day, and we're forced to mingle with all sorts of wildly different people. We need to understand that other people follow different rules from us, and it's not going to be easy to change them (or ourselves).

    So, given that, the practical way to live is to always be an "anthropologist on Mars." Don't assume you know the meaning behind every gesture. And don't assume other people know the meanings behind yours. Take a lot of deep breaths and explain your intentions. Or ask people questions about theirs.

    I'd be that at least 50% of the time we're wrong about people's intentions and they are wrong about ours. Yet most people seem to make an interpretation and stick to it.
    posted by grumblebee at 11:26 AM on September 21, 2006


    Very Rude, and I don't understand people who don't consider it rude. I feel so bad if someone ignores me like that.

    If you have your IM on and don't want to chat, then put a "working" message on or something. Just ignoring people is so bad mojo.

    My advice: Don't answer her next time she talks to you, if it is not necessary of course.
    posted by KimG at 3:15 PM on September 22, 2006


    My advice: Don't answer her next time she talks to you, if it is not necessary of course.

    That is horrible, childish advice.
    posted by antifuse at 5:04 AM on September 23, 2006


    I'm late to this thread, but it seems to me that there is a very huge missing piece to this puzzle:

    What exactly is the relationship between you and the co-worker? Is there a crush involved?

    Maybe she's just not that into you.

    Anyway, I follow the rule that the person shall in their leisure talk to me when they have the time and are inclined (if ever). Repeated messages would be rude on *my* part.
    posted by beth at 1:44 AM on September 28, 2006


    I forgot to add: her brusqueness with the "you're the only one who didn't get it" statement might be a way of her distancing herself from you. Echoing "maybe she's just not that into you".
    posted by beth at 1:46 AM on September 28, 2006


    I'm surprised that it took till the end for that to be posited. In reality, we are just friends. I had never had her ignore my IMs for the whole day (just when she was busy, which is why I kept IMing her throughout the day), so I was curious if it was the cold shoulder or something else. So I asked her the next day. Her response made me wonder if my response was warranted, so I asked 'round here.

    This whole thing was very illuminating because, as I believe I said earlier in the thread, it never occurred to me that someone "might just feel like not talking" and act that way. Now I know that it's implication-free, by and large, and perfectly acceptable in certain populations. Thanks green hordes!
    posted by bbrown at 3:19 PM on October 6, 2006


    Personally, this would upset me. However, I'm sensitive.

    It doesn't take long to tell someone "busy now, chat later." It just seems to be common courtesy. But I can see from this thread that some people see this as a more casual medium and therefore feel it isn't necessary. I'll try to keep that in mind if anyone ignores me in the future.
    posted by mintchip at 6:19 PM on February 9, 2007


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