Instant messages offer you a quick and easy way to talk to classmates and teachers. Whether you are using Google’s Hangouts service, AOL Instant Messenger, Facebook messaging, Skype or one of many other services, instant messages provide a functional, fast-paced conversation that allows you to work on other tasks while you converse. However, it’s important to remember that there are drawbacks to relying on instant messages as your primary form of communication, and that instant messaging may not be appropriate for all topics or tasks.

Interpretation

Text is a limited form of communication. When speaking with a person face to face, you can read his intent and emotions through body language and facial expressions. Because none of these physical cues exist in an instant messaging conversation, it is easy to misinterpret the intent of a given message. Messages you send may not read the way you think, and messages you receive may carry more or less meaning than you suspect. If you have something important that needs addressing, it is best to rely on in-person communication to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Productivity

Having all of your friends just a click away is certainly convenient, but represents a massive threat to your daily productivity. It is easy to become distracted with an instant messaging conversation, losing vital study or project time in the process. If you’re working on a deadline or you have important tasks that need addressing, power down your instant messaging software so you do not lose focus while working. Alternatively, put up a “Do Not Disturb” flag so friends know you are busy.

Security

Instant messages provide you with very little in terms of security. When you send a message to a friend or classroom contact, there is no way to be sure that information isn’t being viewed by another person near the recipient’s computer. Additionally, logging and copying instant messaging conversations is a simple enough task for savvy computer users. Never accept file transfers from people you do not know, and keep private and sensitive information out of your instant messaging channels.

Reflection

One of the biggest advantages of instant messaging is also one of its biggest disadvantages: the speed at which you can send messages. When sending an email, for example, you have time to read the message before sending to analyze it for tone and intention. You can edit out mistakes and remove or reword statements that sound overly aggressive or negative. Instant messaging offers no opportunity to reflect on messages before you send them, making it easier to accidentally upset a contact with a poorly worded message. Take your time when composing instant messages to prevent errors and miscommunication.