By Tessa Hill
RANDY METCALF/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Undecided freshman Dylan Anderson-Berens talks on AOL Instant Messenger in his La Paz dorm room Tuesday.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday February 27, 2003
Every morning, Crystal Alkais begins her day not by eating breakfast, showering and brushing her teeth, but by signing on to her America Online Instant Messenger account.
Alkais, a pre-business freshman, said she uses AIM daily to talk to her family in Phoenix and friends who live down the hall.
The use of instant messaging through AOL and other providers like Yahoo and Microsoft Network has become increasingly popular as an inexpensive and often free way for college students to exchange instant text messages with friends and family, whether nearby or across the country.
Alkais, a Coronado Hall resident, said the chime of an incoming IM is a very familiar sound in her residence hall.
"Almost everyone I know uses it," she said.
"It's a lot easier than calling people, especially when they are out-of-state," Alkais said and added that she often uses AIM to see what her friends are up to throughout the day.
"I sign on in the morning and usually don't sign off until I'm going to bed," she said.
With more than 180 million registered AIM users sending more than 2.1 billion IMs daily across the network, AOL is the most widely used instant messaging network, according to AOL's official Web site.
The free downloadable service allows people with an existing Internet connection to exchange text messages in real time, share files, post "away messages" when they are not at their computers and maintain a "buddy list" to alerts them when a user on their list has signed on.
In addition, users can personalize their text box and include a small graphic known as a "buddy icon" that appears every time they IM another user.
The original proprietor of instant messaging, AIM, is also the top choice for many UA students.
Adam Wasserman, an economics junior, said he also uses AIM daily and has more than 100 buddies on his buddy list.
"I can be cleaning my room or watching TV and be chatting with people at the same time," said Wasserman, who also said that he uses AIM 90 percent of the time to talk to people, reverting to his cellular phone only when he is not by his computer.
John Galina-Mehlman, a biology junior, said he likes using AIM because he can do other things, such as homework, while he chats.
"The conversation goes at a slower pace, so you don't have to devote as much attention," Galina-Mehlman added.
Wasserman said that the best thing about AIM is that you can talk to 10 people at a time, whereas you can only talk to one person at a time on a cell phone.
Like many other AIM users, Wasserman said he uses his buddy icon as a way to express himself.
"I have a Lakers three-time champion logo as my icon, so everybody knows I'm a Lakers fan," he said and added that buddy icons are a symbol of not only one's likes, but one's personality, beliefs and musical preference.
"You can find any icon you want; there are so many," Wasserman said, adding that he usually downloads his buddy icons from www.badassbuddies.com or www.baller-icons.com.
In addition to using buddy icons as a means for self-expression, users' away messages also say a lot about themselves.
According to a 2002 New York Times article, away messages are the "equivalent of the novelty answering machine messages of the ╬80s."
"If something funny happens to my friends and I, we put it on our away message," Alkais said.
Wasserman said that he not only uses funny mishaps for his away message, but also movie quotes and words of wisdom.
Both Wasserman and Alkais said they have used IM since its beginnings in 1998, but since coming to college, they use it more frequently. Alkais said she often uses AIM to get to know people in a less personal atmosphere.
"If I'm hanging out in someone's room and they sign on, I'll be like, ╬What's your screen name?' and then I can get to know them and say hello every once in a while without it being awkward," she said.
The less personal atmosphere of AIM also helps Wasserman address problems with his roommates more comfortably.
"If one of my roommates is acting funny, I'll just IM him and be like, ╬What's your problem?'" he said and added that dealing with roommate issues through IM is less confrontational.
Despite AIM's advantages, there remain disadvantages.
Wasserman said the biggest disadvantage is that "sarcasm is hard to use and words can often be misinterpreted."
"Sometimes you can't tell if people are being serious or not," he added.
Alkais, however, said the only downfall to AIM is her dependency on it.
"If my computer broke, I'd feel totally out of the loop," she said, adding she would be lost without being able to use AIM.
Other disadvantages are specific to students who use AIM or other IM networks on public computers across campus. The UA Library and Information Commons Policy states that "chats" should be related to UA course work only.
Alkais and Wasserman both said they only use AIM in the library or Information Commons occasionally, but have witnessed other students chat online for long periods of time, especially in the Information Commons.
However, library officials recently disabled WINCHAT capabilities and removed computer messenger services from all Information Commons computers, according to Adele Edwards, systems planning and development coordinator at the Main Library. Last semester, numerous problems occurred with the program, including an IM that appeared on all computer screens in the facility.