Instant Messenger Handbook
The First Law of Instant Messenger: Instant Messenger is Not Real Communication.
What you write is rarely read the way you would have said it in person, especially when you’re trying to be funny. This brings up the second law of IM:
The Second Law of Instant Messenger: Instant Messenger is Not a Venue for Sarcasm.
Using sarcasm over IM is nearly impossible, because most people take written language literally and cannot see you roll your eyes or make some kind of face to indicate that you’re kidding. In the end, when you type “I really wish Jennifer Love Hewitt would make more CDs and movies” that’s exactly what the other person thinks you mean. Explaining your sense of humor over IM is like making crepes on the backyard grill — not worth the effort.
If you do make a joke and aren’t sure someone else got it, then send a little smiley face at ‘em and drive home the point. It’s polite. Which brings up the third law of IM:
The Third Law of Instant Messenger: Emoticons Should Be Used Like Punctuation.
While somewhat girlish and lame, emoticons can be acceptable if used to punctuate thoughts, in the same way a sly wink is used in person. This is fine. You’re not lame if you do this sporadically. Remember, there’s a fine line between using the “embarrassed” smiley once in a while, and becoming a junior-high school girl who ends every sentence with one of those rainbow-double-happy-face exclamation-point things.
Ultimately, there are certain words that are such poor communicators over IM even emoticons can’t help them. And so, Law Four:
The Fourth Law of Instant Messenger: There’s Nothing “Fine” About the Word “Fine.”
Indeed, an especially problematic word is “fine,” which never, ever means that you’re fine with something, even if you’re actually fine with something. After years of hearing people utter “fine” in a clipped, short, “I’m so NOT FINE about this” way, it’s been permanently tainted with an opposite meaning. Instead use: “cool,” which is peppy and indicates that you are, in fact, fine.
Because of the miscommunication and myriad meanings words can take over IM, you must obey the cardinal rule of IM at all times. More than “don’t type in all caps,” more than “don’t speak in acronyms,” more than “cybersex is for losers,” more than anything else, you must remember the Fifth Law:
The Fifth Law of Instant Messenger: Never Fight Over Instant Messenger.
Don’t do it! Getting mad at your significant other via IM is not useful or smart. Having that long-desired sit-down about how your roommate is a total slob will backfire horribly. Telling your family you’ve failed at school because all you’ve done is add to your buddy list is a poor choice, since they’re gonna want to yell at you over the phone. All you’ve done is open Pandora’s Box of massive misunderstandings and major miscommunication, creating a special new kind of hell for yourself.
Never forget: The emotions and sentiments expressed over IM are not real. They only read that way.