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Guy Vs. Guy: Does Instant Messaging Improve Productivity -- or Destroy It?

Welcome to Guy Vs. Guy! In this recurring feature, Rick and Dave square off on the business and technology issues of the day. This week's topic: instant messaging. Sure, it's a handy and convenient way to communicate, but it's an inherently productivity-disrupting technology. Should you use it anyway?

Rick: I love instant messaging. It's the ultimate business-communication tool, offering faster and more detailed conversations than you get from e-mail. Plus, it's much less intrusive than a phone call. And yet you refuse to IM with the outside world, instead limiting yourself to your dinky little intranet messaging tool. Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do.

Dave: Bah, humbug. I suppose IM is fine for some people, but it just doesn't suit my style. I hate the way IMs randomize me; I'll be intent on some project, focused on work, and then my IM client beeps at me because you are bored and want to tell me that you had tacos for lunch. IM just makes it too easy for everyone with a question or a comment and the self-control of a ferret to disrupt my workflow continuously through the day.

Rick: That's the most reasonable argument you've made, well, ever. (The only one, too.) While I agree IM can be intrusive, how is it any different than the telephone? Or e-mail? Or people poking their heads inside your cube? Interruptions are part of office life. If you can't deal with them, maybe it's time you pursued your dream of fronting an all-accordion band. Me, I just set my IM status to "away" or "don't bug me, I'm busy" if I need uninterrupted work time.

Dave: The difference between IM and more direct communication -- like the phone or sneakernet -- is that the barrier to entry is so much lower. It takes effort for someone to pick up the phone, which is why you never call me to share your latest idea for a TV show about a cop, Danny Peppers, who runs an Italian restaurant in his spare time. You want to call it "Sausage and Peppers." You'll IM me about it all the live-long day, though. So why is it somehow my job to keep changing my IM status? That would be like if I had to constantly update a sign on my door to keep lolligaggers away. Seems like as a society we've lost the gift of common courtesy.

Rick: Seriously, what planet do you live on? On my world, which is real and called Earth, the so-called "barrier to entry" is an advantage. Let's say you're my boss (shudder). I have a question that needs an immediate answer. I could e-mail you, but who knows how long it'll take to get a response? I could call you, but I'm respectful of your workflow and don't like to interrupt the delicate genius. Plus, I'd have to listen to yet another harebrained idea for a TV show -- and I'm a busy man. But IM? Me: "Hey, should I post this item now or at 3 p.m.?" You: "Now's good." Hey, sorry for the 6-second interruption. Tell me again how this is a bad thing?

Dave: Well, you just made my point. You should e-mail. Who knows when you'll get a response? I know when. You'll get a response on my timetable, when I decide it's time to take a break from the work I'm doing to address my inbox. It's not all about you, and your needs. Did you learn nothing from that girlfriend you had once? Study after study after study shows that multi-tasking reduces productivity and even adversely affects the brain. Why do you insist on ruining my brain?

Rick: Please, don't lob me fat pitches like that -- let me earn 'em! Are you seriously arguing that your productivity is more important than everyone else's? That IM is more of an interruption than e-mail, phone calls, and knocks at the door? And that your brain is so feeble, it can't multi-task? Sad, sad, and sad. The irony here is that I hate interruptions even more than you do, yet I find IM indispensable. If I need to work distraction-free for a while, I turn it off. When I'm available, I turn it back on. Apparently that's too much of a hassle for you. Meanwhile, people who have an urgent need to reach you can't reach you. Way to be a team player, there, Dilbert.

Dave: Well, as one team player to another, let me suggest that in addition to the productivity problem, IM, like texting, is causing the slow death of the English language. "u tere?" is not the same thing as "Dave, are you there? I have a question." I know that it sounds like I'm telling you to turn your music down and get off my lawn, but it's hard to argue that we're not becoming a semi-literate, impulsively rude society thanks to IM.

Rick: Wow, you're really grasping at straws, Cranky Old Man Johnson. Now you're blaming IM for society's literacy problems? I think you're confusing instant messaging with text messaging, which has me ROTFLMAO. Believe me, that many people are incapable of constructing a grammatically correct (or even correctly spelled) sentence has nothing to do with IM. Are you ready to concede defeat here, or are you next going to tell me that those new-message pings can damage one's hearing?

Dave: AFK.

Okay, who won the debate? Hit the Talkback to declare a winner and share your IM arguments. When that's done, check out the previous Guy Vs. Guy entries, which are just as entertaining and enlightening.

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