in the Instant Messaging Era
Bonka S. Boneva
This chapter examines how adolescents in the United States use instant messaging (IM) to communicate with peers. Adolescents can be described as the ultimate communicators, because this developmental period is defined by a strong need for numerous friendships and peer-group affiliations. IM seems to be one new communication modality that adolescents have appropriated to satisfy this need.
IM software allows people to have real-time, private text-based conversations on the Internet. Although synchronous networked communication has a long history, IM use expanded with the introduction of the ICQ (“I Seek You”) service in November 1996 by a company called Mirabilis, which made ICQ freely available to anyone with Internet access. Since that time, America Online's IM service, Microsoft's MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, and others were introduced and adopted by the public (History of Instant Messaging, 2004). All modern IM services allow users to see whether a defined group of others (often called “buddies”) is logged in on their network and to send their friends messages in real time (Alvestrand, 2002, p. 1). In the United States, IM has proved to be one of the most popular applications of the Internet, inducing people to stay connected to the Internet for extended amounts of time to be available for conversation (Lenhart, Rainie, & Lewis, 2001).
Teenagers have been especially attracted to IM services. In June 2001, a national study of teenage online behavior (Lenhart, et al., 2001) reported that 74% of adolescents in the United States who had Internet access used IM, and 35% used it every day. IM was the primary way to communicate with others for 19% of U.S. adolescents. Only 8% of the adolescents considered electronic mail (e-mail) a primary way to communicate with others. In contrast, e-mail was the communication medium of choice for adults—93% of adults with Internet access used e-mail, and only 47% used IM (see also Madden & Rainie, 2003).
Why do teens flock to IM? Lenhart et al. (2001) underlined the fact that adolescents have adapted IM technologies to their own needs and purposes— “the majority of teenagers have embraced instant messaging in a way that adults have not” (p. 10). In later studies, Grinter and Eldridge (2001) and Schiano, Chen, Ginsburg, Gretarsdottir, Huddleston, and Isaacs (2002) emphasized again that the popularity of IM among teens is a result of their need to socialize while confined to their homes. Yet