I love instant messaging. It’s brilliant. An excellent way to stay in touch with absent friends and a great way to casually chat with people without having to meet up with them in person – something which we kind of take for granted, but as a teenager using MSN for the first time, it felt incredible to be able to talk to my friends in real time online. Sure, we had texting before then, but texts cost 10p each. A conversation would soon become very expensive. MSN was a free text-based chat system which revolutionised social lives. Or, at very least, my social life. An appealing way to remain social if you were somebody who didn’t like going out so much.
Nowadays instant messaging is even better. Nearly everybody has a messaging app on their phone (usually Facebook Messenger) and with everybody connected to the internet at all times, we can now contact any friend at any time – isn’t that wonderful? Well, in some ways, it certainly is, but there was one big benefit to MSN which Facebook Messenger doesn’t provide – something which, if it was there, would probably help to reduce a lot of the anxiety that some people feel when using it.
So, what’s the feature? Well, if you remember, MSN would usually log in automatically when you went onto your computer. If you were planning to use your computer to do something else, you could just set yourself to “busy” or “do not disturb” so that people would know not to send you a message or, if they did, they’d know you wouldn’t reply to that message right away. It was a nice way to let people make some boundaries.
Facebook Messenger doesn’t have this option and it creates lots of problems. Firstly, it creates pressure for you when you use it – if you’re online, you know that it’s telling your friends that you’re online and then gives you cause to think that it might seem rude if you don’t respond immediately. Secondly, on the other side of things, if somebody messages somebody and they can see that they are currently online, it will make them question why they’ve not received a response if they don’t get one right away – they’ll wonder if they have annoyed or offended the person and then end up feeling all anxious.
So why doesn’t Facebook implement this feature which other services had over a decade ago? It only takes a second’s thought to realise that it will improve the user experience and the mental health of the people using it. The reason is that they don’t care about these things. They want you on the app as often as possible throughout the day and they don’t care about the toll it takes on you – if you’re on the app, you can be exposed to adverts that are there and they can make money from the data they accumulate from every conversation you have. I do often miss the days of the internet when everything wasn’t so hyper-commercialised…