The New York Times had a story Thursday about how kids use instant messaging that is relevant to my current reading about Information Ecologies. The chapter I’m now reading defines the complex way in which an information ecology takes place – the interplay between the technology itself and the people who use it. The authors make the important point that the technology alone is not determinative. The authors say:

We cannot overemphasize a key point here: only the participants of an information ecology can establish the identity and place of the technologies that are found there. Indeed, this is a responsibility, not just an opportunity.

This contrasts with the luddite view (my word, not theirs) that technology is beyond our control and bends us to its amoral will.

Which brings us to Joyce Cohen’s story in Thursday’s New York Times. It’s a delightful romp about the way kids’ IM away messages have become a fundamental tool for communicating with and entertaining one another:

Away messaging, a function of instant messaging, has become something of an obsession on college campuses, providing communication, entertainment, procrastination and social life all rolled into one. “Students go online just to read their friends’ away messages,” said David Jacobson, a professor of anthropology at Brandeis University, who has taught courses examining away messages. “It’s a whole new dynamic that’s really remarkable.”

The software engineers who created the “away message” had no idea it would be used this way. These kids have bent it to their will.