The New York Times – “One of the web’s oldest functions remains one of its most powerful and promising. As we debate the negative effects of social media, consider the earliest and arguably most prevalent way that we use the internet to connect with other people: the chat. Networked chatting predates the internet; there might not be a more obvious thing to do with two connected computers. In 1988, the first version of Internet Relay Chat, or IRC, made widely available a new and yet instantly familiar mode of communication: groups of people choosing each other and then typing together in real time. From then on, chat was everywhere. Mainstream service providers, including CompuServe and AOL, embraced chat. So did email services. Napster was a chat app. Early social networks either had chat features (like MySpace) or were populated by users who also had accounts on popular instant message services. Multiplayer gaming, a profoundly social experience, has always hinged on the embedded or peripheral group chat. Smartphones immediately became the ultimate chatting machines. The biggest social apps of the 2010s, with their various spins on posting, sharing and following, all eventually built either chat features or chat-like DM services, some of which were spun off. Livestreaming? That’s about chat, too. For people who have spent enough time online — or, probably, most people under the age of 50 — chatting in a live context is as natural as talking on the phone, and quite a bit more common. Many of the problems people identify with social media can be traced not to chats but feeds. It’s too stimulating. It’s too boring. It makes us loathe ourselves. It requires us to vet disinformation or fall into its snares. It forces us to endure the worst parts of celebrity. It’s the opposite of a social experience: It’s alienating.
…Chatting isn’t posting. It unfolds in real time, or at least can, if both parties are present. Chats select themselves — they’re conversations you enter with either one other person or many. You join, you leave. You have the freedom to join and leave. Self-selected groups tend to share something — if not a set of well understood norms and expectations, at least a common interest or purpose. They’re private by default, and tend to have a great deal of latitude to set their own rules, even on big centralized services. You can see everything from the chat, and nobody can see you…”
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