I think one of the biggest threats to workplace productivity in this millennium (note to self: never use the word "millennium" again) is the abuse of chat programs like AOL Instant Messenger Windows Live Messenger. All over the world, millions of people are whittling their workhours away in pointless conversations with strangers they would not give the time of day to face-to-face.

But just because chat is informal, anonymous communication doesn't mean that there aren't rules of etiquette to be aware of. Here are some observations to help you get the most out of your instant messaging.

(Just be sure your internet activities aren't being monitored, a practice that is becoming widespread (not that I blame managers for keeping an eye on their puckish employees, but why won't Websense let me into The Hunger Site?) Xerox sacked over 40 people for surfing porn on the company dime. D'oh! However, it wasn't a secret that Xerox was maintaining a log of the internet sites their employees were visiting. Moral of the story: you should have morals.)

Before You Start.
First of all, you could limit your fun to people you actually know, i.e. "friends", but for heaven's sake why? You'd be missing out on many titillating, repetitious and otherwise mind-numbing encounters with bored strangers dawdling in their dead-end, mickey-mouse jobs (obviously not at Xerox). So be sure to have "Only people on my allow list can see my status and send me messages" unchecked under the Options/Privacy menu. Revel in the fact that you have just made yourself available to millions of unimaginative and puerile men, women and teens looking to rub one out before their parents/spouse/lover/kids/dog come home.

I recommend that you take a look at your intended's profile before you start a chat. Sometimes you can find interesting things there that make breaking the ice even easier. Still, it's hardly a challenge to initiate a conversation with the likes of SkaTerDuDEy, Cooliegrrl or Dfr1899. I mean, the rejection factor is almost nil so it's more like "breaking the slush." Even if you can't find any worthwhile material in the profile, there's no need for jazzy opening lines or clever repartee (unless you want to talk with me).



"Fancy a chat?"

"What color are your panties?"

Keeping It Going.
Most people won't even bother to look at your profile, however. Why should they waste time reading lame shoutouts to all your friends? Boorrring. There are millions of people out there to chat with, so it's quicker to get down to business with the ever charming: "a/s/l"
(age/sex/location. I dislike being asked that, because it reveals a horrifying indifference to taste, ingenuity and common courtesy, IMAO.)

Be prepared that if you admit you're a female over 21, the follow-up is usually,

"Cool. Do you like younger guys? And make it quick, my mom is coming home soon."


"Are you bi?"

I've actually had this conversation:

Chatperson: Hi.
Me: Hi.
Chatperson: Did you read our profile?
Me (what's with this "our" stuff?): No, we didn't. Hold on...
Chatperson: k.

(I discover Chatperson is the male half of a couple trolling for some girl-on-wifey action...Serious inquiries only, of course.)

Me: Do you ever get any takers?
Chatperson: Sure!
Me: No, really. Do ya?
Chatperson: YES. REALLY!!!
Me (realizing why so many people aren't as angst-ridden as I am): But isn't that, like, cheating?
Chatperson: Well, I'm there, too!
Me: oic...

Which reminds me. You'll notice soon enough that chat has developed its own language which may or may not be called "netcronyms", and it's not because IM encourages laziness or bad typing. Well, it does, but it's crucial to get your ideas out quickly because you're dealing with very limited attention spans. That's why it's preferable to type a few letters rather than a complete, punctuated sentence.

Here are the most useful, IMAO (In My Arrogant Opinion)

brb (be right back)
oic (oh, I see)
lol (if you don't know what this means, forget it)
ih (I'm horny) OK, so I made that one up. But for the amount of times people tell me that, it deserves netcronymity. Oh, and one more thing: spelling counts, peeple!

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Chat Partners.
Some people (guys) need to have an image in their head of the person they're chatting with. The anonymity emboldens them to say things like: "Are you hot?" or "What are your measurements?" It no longer surprises me how rude people (guys) can be. Why not just look at a girlie magazine and pretend? I prefer to use my imagination; I'm never disappointed that way. If someone keeps pestering you for a picture, tell them you're not attractive. Nothing says scram faster than "Lookit, I'm ugly." (Besides, that's more fun than actually blocking their messages. Why be on IM if not to mess with people's heads?)

If you're into embellishing, keep track of your lies. Some people are almost paying attention to what you're telling them, because they're hoping this on-line relationship might turn into something more substantial. Like cybersex.

Wanna Cyber? Loser.
I don't get the fascination with cybersex. It doesn't turn my crank at all. It's silly, pathetic and ...mostly silly. And pathetic. If some guy tells me "I tkae off your shirt and..." how can I take that seriously? If someone's tkaing off my shirt, I want to be there when it happens. You've seen what people who spend a lot of time behind their computers look like. Questionable hygiene practices. Bags under the eyes that could accommodate a Smart Car. And did I mention the hygiene thing? That's who you're cybering with -- Eric Cartman, not Eric, er, some hot guy named Eric. Yummy.

Yes, there are surely a few cuties sprinkled into the mix, but what are the odds your sexyGrrL999999 is really who you think she is? About the same that she is really a she. (I'm not much of an optimist.)

Why It's Not Instant Commitment-Maker.
Don't rush to add people to your buddy list. You're probably going to run out of things to say to them before the day is over anyway. Sooner or later they're going to get weird on you, too. I hate when people start saying stuff like "Are you ignoring me?" The fact is, most of us don't have all that much to say in the first place. Sometimes people will disappear off the server completely. Rarely I'll wonder what became of them. Did I offend them? I say stupid things all the time; IM encourages stupidity. Did they want a fresh start with a new screen name? Did they lose their job, or get a new one with a better firewall? Did they get arrested, or hospitalized? Do they know where I live? Most importantly, are they ignoring me? I'll never know, and usually, it's good riddance anyway.

So don't feel bad if someone on your buddy list doesn't say "Hi." Chances are he (or she) has already removed you from his buddy list, either because you were boring, annoying, or you started using expressions like "on-line boyfriend". That's another no-no. People delude themselves into thinking that it's something more than chat - just because virtual body fluids were exchanged. Nope. It's the same as in real life, when actual body fluids are exchanged.

I don't want you to think I'm down on IM. Actually, I am. It's dumb spending that much time talking to people you don't know. I should add, it's dumb spending that much time talking to people you do know. You'll get bored with it, just like everyone else.

p.s. So far, no one's asked for my IM moniker. I wonder why?