How Facebook Killed Online Chat

In the early days of the internet, online conversations were an event. The technology was novel, and it was suddenly possible to socialize with a whole bunch of friends at a distance, all at once. No more calling your friends one by one, you could talk to them all at the same time!

Many of us would spend hours on IRC, or pull all-nighters bantering on MSN Messenger or AIM. But then, something happened, and many of us found ourselves having shorter conversations online, if we were having any at all. Thinking back to my younger days, and comparing them with today, I think I’ve figured out what it is that’s changed.

Deliberate Choices

Having the right nick, profile image, and personal message was a big part of looking cool on MSN Messenger. You needed something that would make you seem interesting, hip, and worth talking to. Song lyrics were common. Credit: Screenshot, MSN Messenger history

Twenty five years ago, a lot more of us were stuck getting by with dialup. The Internet wasn’t always on back then. You had to make the decision to connect to it, and sit at your computer to use it.

Similarly, logging into an IRC room was a deliberate action. It was a sign that you were setting aside time to communicate. If you were in a chat room, you were by and large there to talk. On AIM or MSN Messenger, it was much the same deal. If you wanted to have a chat, you’d leave your status on available. If you didn’t wanna talk, you’d set yourself to Busy or Away, or log off entirely.

This intentionality fostered meaningful interactions online. Back then, you’d sign in and you’d flick through your list of friends. If someone’s icon was glowing green, you knew they were probably up to talk. You might have a quick chat, or you could talk for hours. Indeed, logging on to a chatroom for an extended session was a pastime enjoyed by many.

If you were on Linux, or used multiple chat services, you might have experimented with multi-chat clients like Pidgin back in the day. Credit: Uberushaximus, GPL

Back then, people were making the conscious decision to set aside time to talk. Conversations were more focused and meaningful because both parties had set aside time to engage. This intentionality led to richer, more engaging discussions because participants were fully present.

Furthermore, the need to log in and out helped create a healthy boundary between life online and off. Users balanced their online interactions with other responsibilities and activities. There was a clear distinction between online and offline life, allowing for more complete engagement in both. When you logged off, that was it. There was no way for your online friends to get a message to you in real time, so your focus was fully on what was going on in front of you.

Critical Shift

T’was the endless march of technology that changed the meta. Broadband internet would keep our computers online round the clock. You could still log in and out of your chat apps, of course, and when you walked away from your computer, you were offline.

But technology didn’t stop there. Facebook came along, and tacked on Messenger in turn. The app would live on the smartphones in our pockets, while mobile data connections meant a message from the Internet could come through at any time.

If your buddies were green, you could hit ’em up for a chat! Facebook kind of has us all defaulting to available at all times, though, and it throws everything off. Credit: Pidgin.IM

Facebook’s always-on messaging was right there, tied to a website many of us were already using on the regular. Suddenly, booting up another app like AIM or MSN seemed archaic when we could just chat in the browser. The addition of the app to smartphones put Messenger everywhere we went. For many, it even started to supplant SMS, in addition to making other online chat platforms obsolete.

Always-on messaging seemed convenient, but it came with a curse. It’s fundamentally changed the dynamics of our online interactions, and not always for the better.

Perpetual availability means that there is a constant pressure to respond. In the beginning, Facebook implemented “busy” and “available” status messages, but they’re not really a thing anymore. Now, when you go to message a friend, you’re kind of left in to the dark as to what they’re doing and how they’re feeling. Maybe they’re chilling at home, and they’re down for a deep-and-meaningful conversation. Or maybe they’re working late at work, and they don’t really want to be bothered right now. Back in the day, you could seamlessly infer their willingness to chat simply by noting whether they were logged in or not. Today, you can’t really know without asking.

That has created a kind of silent pressure against having longer conversations on Facebook Messenger. I’m often reluctant to start a big conversation with someone on the platform, because I don’t know if they’re ready for it right now. Even when someone contacts me, I find myself trying to close out conversations quickly, even positive ones. I’m inherently assuming that they probably just intended to send me a quick message, and that they’ve got other things to do. The platform provides no explicit social signal that they’re happy to have a proper conversation. Instead, it’s almost implied that they might be messaging me while doing something else more important, because hey, Messenger’s on all the time. Nobody sits down to chat on Facebook Messenger these days.

Do any of these people want to chat? I can’t tell, because they’re always online!

It’s also ruining the peace. If you’ve got Messenger installed, notifications pop up incessantly, disrupting focus and productivity. Conversations that might have once been deep and meaningful are now often fragmented and shallow because half the time, someone’s starting them when you’re in the middle of something else. If you weren’t “logged on” or “available”, they’d wait until you were ready for a proper chat. But they can’t know that on Facebook Messenger, so they just have to send a message and hope.

In a more romantic sense, Facebook Messenger has also killed some of the magic. The ease of starting a conversation at any moment diminishes the anticipation that once accompanied online interactions. Plenty of older Internet users (myself included) will remember the excitement when a new friend or crush popped up online. You could freely leap into a conversation because just by logging on, they were saying “hey, wanna talk?” It was the equivalent social signal of seeing them walk into your local pub and waving hello. They’re here, and they want to socialize!

It’s true that we effectively had always-on messaging before Facebook brought it to a wider audience. You could text message your friends, and they’d get it right away. But this was fine, and in fact, it acted as a complement to online messaging. SMSs used to at least cost a little money, and it was generally time consuming to type them out on a limited phone keypad. They were fine if you needed to send a short message, and that was about it. Meanwhile, online messaging was better for longer, intentional conversations. You could still buzz people at an instant when you needed to, but SMS didn’t get in the way of proper online chats like Facebook Messenger would.

The problem is, it seems like we can’t really go back. As with so many technologies, we can try and blame the creators, but it’s not entirely fair. Messenger changed how we used online chat, but Facebook didn’t force us to do anything. Many of us naturally flocked to the platform, abandoning others like AIM and MSN in short order .We found  it more convenient in the short term, even if some of us have found it less satisfying in the long term.

Online platforms tend to figure out what we respond to on a base psychological level, and game that for every last drop of interaction and attention they can. They do this to sell ads and make money, and that’s all that really matters at the end of the day. Facebook’s one of the best at it. It’s not just online chat, either. Forums went the same way, and it won’t end there.

Ultimately, for a lot of us, our days of spending hours having great conversations online are behind us. It’s hard to see what could ever get the broader population to engage again in that way. Instead, it seems that our society has moved on, for the worse or for the better. For me, that’s a shame!

80 thoughts on “How Facebook Killed Online Chat

  1. “Now, when you go to message a friend, you’re kind of left in to the dark as to what they’re doing and how they’re feeling. ”

    Sounds like a patience problem. Even before chat people were in the dark as to how the situation was on the other end. Still mostly are with the vagrancies of communication, even with the help of emoticons.

  2. “Now, when you go to message a friend, you’re kind of left in to the dark as to what they’re doing and how they’re feeling. ”

    Lots of people like the fact that other people are unaware of their current status. A long time ago we called that privacy and it was pretty well known and respected.

    1. I don’t think you’ve understood the gist of the article. When you went online on MSN, you were actually open to others chatting to you. When you weren’t, you shutdown MSN (or set your status to “busy”, even for that one person) and if you weren’t at your computer, it would automatically change your status to “idle” after 5 or so minutes.
      So you being online meant “chat to me”.

      1. >So you being online meant “chat to me”.

        Not really. You could be doing other stuff and the program just automatically flags you “online” because you were in fact online.

        1. ‘[…]you were actually open to others chatting to you. When you weren’t, you shutdown MSN (or set your status to “busy”[…]’

          As I recall, if I manually set my status to “Away” or the like, it stayed that way until I changed it, (or maybe rebooted/restarted chat client). Then again, I never really was much into chat except for at work so I really don’t miss it that much.

          1. Many people just didn’t understand enough to do that, so they were always “online” whenever they dialed up the connection.

            The program was set to auto-start by default and just wait for you to connect, which was one of the things you had to deal with back in the day because computers had limited resources and every little piece of software wanted to auto-launch on startup, making the system boot time stretch long enough to brew coffee and drink it.

  3. Yes!

    I don’t think it has anything to do with FaceBook though. If FaceBook started in 1998 we would have had to turn on our computers (probably desktop) and dial in to use it. It wouldn’t have been any different from AIM, ICQ and the others.

    It’s the always connected pocket computer that changed it all.

    For me the perfect balance was in my early college days. I had no cellphone but I had a pager and a calling card. Payphones were abundant. I had dorm ethernet so no need to dial in but it was wired to a desktop.

    If I wanted to “talk” I could log in and whoever else showed online, they were available too. If I was busy… I didn’t. If i received a page.. I could go to the nearest cellphone and return the call if I wanted to. Or, if not I could wait until later. Hey, I was out… couldn’t call you back. No one expected immediate access to everyone else at all times and places!

    If I wanted to go do something.. well.. that IM list was a pretty good indicator of who else wasn’t busy. I could go there and find someone or a group to go do something with.

    And yes, I and my friends group, we did meet new people on Aim too. Often that didn’t work out so great, sometimes it brought in new friends. Always.. it kept things interesting.

    “Kids these days”… will never know what they missed in that tiny slice of time that was one foot in the old pre-internet world and one foot in this one.

    Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my cellphone (always connected wireless pocket computer). I love that I can look up information anywhere anytime. I love that I can use it for navigation with realtime traffic. I love that I can use it to access my home computer and work on my projects. But it killed the fun of chat. Which as a middle-aged married man with a family… probably doesn’t affect me anyway. Get up, go to work, come home, be with family, go back to bed, repeat… Doesn’t really lend itself to looking up friends to talk or go do things. But it is a much sadder world for my single friends.

    Kids don’t know what they are missing!

    1. >No one expected immediate access to everyone else at all times and places!

      No-one expects you to give immediate access to yourself even if you’re logged in. It’s just the illusion that you have to respond because there’s a message. Back in the day when you had to call someone back, most of the time you could have, but you didn’t, because it wasn’t convenient for you.

      Even today, you can answer to private messages at your own leisure. It’s just that you feel like you’re being rude or dismissive if you don’t respond right away. Don’t worry, people understand because they don’t want to reply to you either – unless they have something to say.

      1. That is the thing about texting. Answer or not, or defer. Not like answering a phone where you ‘have’ to listen and respond. And not rude at all, unless it is ‘important’ like ‘Help, I fell and can’t get up’ or some such… This is the ‘replacement’ to facebook and compliments the phone nicely. Just don’t use it for idle chitchat… Call if you want to ‘talk’.

        My wife and I still don’t see why people live and die with twitter, facebook, etc. Don’t need, don’t use. Or tiky-toky or …

        1. It’s like they say, there’s a new idiot born every minute. The point of the saying is that everyone’s born an idiot. How else? People take time to learn – some people more than others – that they just don’t need to respond to every little rustle on social media. They haven’t yet learned that 99.9999% of it is completely irrelevant and doesn’t warrant any attention.

  4. The attachment / fixation / hypnotic attraction / literal psychological dependence / breakdown–and total loss–of heretofore socially-unacceptable disclosure(s) (add your own; I was getting tired of coming up with negatives) to Facebook is so bad, on so many levels, that it was decided to limit this comment because others will, in very short order, provide plenty of additional reading, and be much more entertaining and articulate.

    1. Agreed. It’s an cesspool. Back when the content was predominantly original posts by friends and family I enjoyed it. But these days its just a bunch of low quality articles and click bait, copy and pasted. Then add heavy handed censorship and advertising on top of that. I deleted my Facebook and reddit a couple of years ago and I’ve never regretted it.

      1. I originally used facebook to see which of the hot girls from highschool got fat.

        In all seriousness, it was a good way to find out what happened to people we knew from school or the military. I have not ran across someone new in a decade, as those who would have joined had done so already.

        For me, I visit once every few months, otherwise it’s a static “about me” page.

  5. Whatsapp was there 2 years before Facebook Messenger, and depending on the country, quite a bit more popular. I don’t think Facebook has anything to do with it. Like Panondorf wrote, it’s the always-on phone in your pocket that changed things, not Facebook.

    1. I don’t think it changed anything. You changed.

      I use whatsapp and almost never message people personally, and people don’t message me unless it’s specific and important. I like hanging around in the groups and interact with everyone that way. It’s like IRC in the old days: if you don’t like the noise, you can mute it and then return back to see what people were talking about. If you’re messaging then it means you’re available, and if you shut up then it means you’re busy. It makes no difference that the computer is always in my pocket – I can ignore it when I’m not interested.

      1. Bunk. It’s basically the argument that anything “pleasing” becomes addictive, that people have no guards against that, and the reason given is “dopamine response”, which is a popular misunderstanding of what dopamine actually does.

        Dopamine is the “pay attention and remember” signal chemical, not the reward chemical itself. The rest of the video is just tenuously connected bulls**t and scaremongering.

    2. Really? Who always has phone in pocket. Mine is usually on the desk upstairs while home. A lot of times don’t take with except on a trip (phone booths are hard to come by now-a-days).

      The ‘social’ part should outside, coffee shop, etc. face to face ‘social’. Not typing on a keypad! Oh and not sitting across from each other over dinner ‘typing’ either…

      Life is so much better if ‘not always’ connected.

      1. It’s hard to be social face-to-face with people who live and work 20 miles apart, who would have to get out of their way at considerable expense to be together daily. That’s one thing that social media does for you – you’re not isolated from people by circumstances. You can say hi and exchange pleasantries, catch up on gossip etc. and then get together on the weekends when it’s more convenient.

      2. No doubt the accelerometer in our phones has us flagged as ‘left charging’ weirdos/olds.
        Especially when big brother sees us spend money while the phone is still at home.

        Everybody should leave their phone at home, somewhat regularly.
        Just to raise the noise floor.
        Help cover for all the ‘cash shenanigans’ we’re all up to.

        If the only time you leave your phone at home is when you visit (illegal products vendor/second wife/furry cons/squat cobbler/antifa mixer)…You’re busted…Second wife is blow dealing furry antifa tard into squat cobbler? Kinky. I digress.

        Therefor leave phone home at random!

        1. Alternatively, you should set up wifi hotspots with weird names on a timer switch that simply broadcast their SSID but don’t really connect to anything, so it appears like your phone has moved to a different location as Google/Alphabet keeps collecting data from every phone in the area.

          1. You can root your phone and feed it location data of your choice.

            I’ve considered setting up a virtual rooted phone, then telling it I’m constantly at stupid expensive shopping districts (Hollywood, Manhattan, Paris for fashion week, Milan, London, Tokyo etc etc).

            Seeing if they start sending it free offers I can e-bay. Basic service spa days…Richer loss leaders…That _deserve_ a visit from drunken, smelly trailer park big Betty. That kind of thing.

            Then scale!

  6. Ubiquitous instant messaging has been absolutely detrimental to the human race, and we would have been better off if it was never invented.

    Don’t ask me why, don’t ask me the details. I don’t know, its my instincts that tell me this. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
    Its one of those, “everyone knows, but no one can explain why” kind of things.

    Don’t even get me started on online dating, one touch loan apps, “influencer culture” and everything related to these.

    1. there was a noticeable transition point from “this is useful” to “this is exploitable”. things invented with the best intentions will always get corrupted by those who see it as a way to make a quick buck. yesterday’s solved problem is today’s data farm.

    2. Not sure why online dating is catching a stray. Many people have met their long-term partners via online dating. Especially post(ish)-pandemic and the loss of “3rd spaces”, how the hell else do you meet people interested in serious romantic relationships (not saying alternatives don’t exist, just saying it’s difficult for many. I know firsthand that online dating can be a cesspit sometimes and is often rife with scammers and bots.)

  7. Thanks for the thoughtful piece Lewin Day. Like you, I have fond memories of that type of engaging online experience. I agree with you that the odds of recapturing the general public’s attention are low.

    That said, I think we too often dismiss our power over technology. At the end of the day it is only a tool and we are not obligated to use that tool in any particular way. A point I don’t really need to make with this particular audience.

    Our individual actions and relationships directly shape the local (sub) culture. Clearly explain the benefits, like you did in the first half of this article, to your social group and then lead by example. I think you’ll be surprised how many people would follow.

  8. First you want immediacy, then you want to be away and catch up later. First it’s ok for chats to be ephemeral, then you realize you want to save some. First you want to chat with a few special friends, then everyone keeps inviting people, and eventually the value of the network effect is realized. (Duh.) First you want text, then some out-of-band forms of media.

    In fact, email is the stickiest. We just keep going back to it, no matter what. Speed is usually at least a few seconds per message, but you get all the other features (persistence, threading, multimedia, spam prevention, encryption, etc.) You don’t have to depend on cloud services in theory (and if you do, you’re lazy, but most of us are lazy). Saying you don’t like email because you get too much of it is like buying another house because you hoarded too much junk and filled up the old one, then keeping both places because moving is also a lot of trouble. The new place will fill up too, if you don’t learn how to get organized. Why not keep refining your toolset for dealing with email? On your own machines, not in the cloud? That would be a lifetime skill. It would probably be worthwhile to figure out how to funnel everything else into email, too, to leverage that toolset better. And it would be worthwhile for humanity to agree upon and share some such toolsets. Stop letting big companies dominate, and go back to personal ownership and empowerment.

    Likewise, there is no feature available in any real-time chat system that couldn’t be bolted onto IRC somehow. Quassel has most of the features, but there are still a few missing. But ok, at the protocol level there are so many others to choose from, and some are much more efficient than IRC; why do we keep going with all of those in parallel? Why doesn’t one of them take over? We have good published open free standards, and we still use things that are much worse.

    Young people assume that anything new is always better than anything old, so they are willing to switch to any random walled garden that some greedy capitalist is advertising, rather than demanding compatibility to maximize the network effect.

    BBSes, FIDOnet, usenet, packet radio, IRC, ytalk on a particular machine, email, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo messenger, the chat alongside gmail, Skype, yeah facebook, MS Teams, Slack, Discord, SSB, whatsapp, Signal, Telegram, Urbit, Bertie, Mattermost, Element, and probably quite a few more that don’t come to mind ATM, plus the twitter-like things and the facebook-like things… I’ve been on ALL of these and more. It seems like incontrovertible proof of the insanity of humanity (surely not just me?) merely to have that much duplication of effort and that much incompatibility.

    1. Young people grew up in the age of enshittification; either they follow everyone to the newest thing when the current one stops being worth using, or they have to give up and learn something that peaked before they were born and doesn’t do a lot of things they take for granted, even though it may fulfill their core objectives.

  9. Hmm, yeah I can see that. Sometimes you’d put in chat your status as away/afk, sometimes with an estimated time of return, in order to be able to read messages later. Or you’d set yourself as invisible in other clients, if you preferred the privacy of simply appearing to be offline rather than specifying whether you were busy or away or whatever. I sort of grew out of the habit of ever marking myself online in those things that still have the option, once everyone began to assume that messages would reach another person at any time and be checked whenever they had a chance, so that offline lost its meaning.

  10. This one really hit me.
    I was born in 1983 and from 1997 on we had always-on internet, and a few years later MSN arrived. I used that a lot to chat with the same friends I also saw in school and later, university. Later came IRC chat, I had a few random rooms I connected to and met a girl on there, we were together for 5.5 years. It really was the “bar” scene for people like me who don’t want to go into bars and talk with strangers.
    The timeline in your writeup is also interesting: I had IRC and MSN before I had my first cellphone, and thus prior to be able to sending SMS messages. They were my original “chat” (after e-mail).

    Being from Europe, Whatsapp is a lot more popular here, serves the same function as Facebook Messenger, I rarely use the latter other than talking to companies (my last 3 personal chats were 9, 12 and 45 weeks ago).

    Whatsapp partially serves the same function as MSN (one-to-one contact with people you know) and partially a “club” function (meeting rooms with mostly people you know), but – as I use it – not the “bar” function (rooms where you know no-one in person, although there are regulars you know from this channel), which is something I sometimes miss.

    The main difference between Whatsapp and MSN is indeed the always-on status. If I wanted to do homework in the MSN era and not be disturbed, I’d log off. If I wanted to not be disturbed but chat to this one classmate, I’d sign in as “do not disturb”, or in IRC log out of any channel but stay on the server. Both are functions that are (and I am sure this is by evil design) very difficult with Whatsapp – about 8 taps deep in settings, while MSN had one prominent.

    I have one phone for work and private and the fact that there is no /easy/ way to (after work hours) disable the Teams app and temporarily (during work hours, or whenever I want to be left alone) Whatsapp is really annoying me. I know there are methods, but I’d like Nokia 3110-era profiles.

    1. >(rooms where you know no-one in person, although there are regulars you know from this channel), which is something I sometimes miss.

      You just need to be invited to one of those group chats. Every small village or parish has their own “local radio”. Getting in however requires you to know someone who’s already in it, by other means – such as being social in person.

  11. Yahoo Groups I miss and Mail too, till Russians hacked it all. You could pick the right bar you wanted to go into and hangout. Loads of info held in those groups till Yahoo flushed it all a few years ago.

  12. there’s so many messaging platforms out there, it’s hard for me to relate to the premise. facebook’s strength is that absolutely everyone is on there, so i can get ahold of people i can’t otherwise…but the flip side is, it spam-buckets you without any indication to either party, so it is only stochastically useful for contacting acquaintances. but mostly, i don’t use it for chat because the user interface is exceptionally bad (IMO). even twitter DM is more tolerable to me.

    the alternatives all have their own strengths and weaknesses. i certainly don’t feel like facebook killed them or changed their makeup any. i’m kind of sad about the loss of AOL instant messenger, a real-time chat that was a decent bridge between myself and the unwashed masses but say la vee. there’s a little more overhead when convincing someone non-technical to join discord or xmpp or irc or slack or whatever.

    really i wonder if OP isn’t talking about the changing nature of socialization as an individual ages?

  13. There was also the proprietary protocols where universal chat apps were made but could not work with platform X or Y because there were no standards and each platform wanted their monopoly.
    Even today, Android and Apple SMS text messaging is not compatible, despite Congress ordering it.

    Nobody considers the revenue model – how do these free chat services earn money?
    I think corporate interests killed off on-line chat.

    1. > how do these free chat services earn money?

      Back in the 90’s and early 00’s, you earned money by being invested in or outright bought out by larger companies who were investing in startups in the hopes that they could eventually charge money for the service, or to buy off the competition to prop up their own service, which they were hoping would eventually make money.

      Eventually all the free services transition to advertising revenue in one form or another. Whatsapp for example is free for private users, but costs money for businesses. The general audience pays nothing while the businesses looking to advertise or do customer services through whatsapp messaging are paying the bills.

      1. The exception of course being the really old protocols like IRC which were made out of necessity and need at a time when no corporate entity was interested. Those still work and have use, because they still work and people can use them any way they want.

  14. my online social life died with various instant messengers. i was using pidgin because i had too many friends on too many platforms. but eventually my active user list dwindled to nothing as people transitioned elsewhere. social networking became social media. now its about spewing your crap for likes rather than connecting with others. always considered myspace to be superior to facebook in every possible way. and dont get me started on discord. communicating online was a solved problem and any changes are done for the benefit of the app developers. farming personal data, advertising, etc.

  15. Nice piece. Mr Day.
    Just for Steve…
    The memory of those ICQ days has retained a certain fondness. The ease of slipping into lengthy detainled discussions. Networking with contacts of contacts who were always (well almost always) considerately curated. When folk migrated to FB the blizzard of shit saw me leave my account dormant. Whatsapp is OK, but the phone I use for it is never with my, just kept beside my PC. My phone? Well, folk can text me if they want, but they seldom get a response. Just call.

  16. These days, more and more, I just set my cellphone to “do not disturb” mode. I’m old enough to believe my cell phone is for my convenience- not yours. I’ve also noticed that more often now when I randomly text people, it will say something like that person is in DND mode, but has an option “deliver anyway.” I’ve never done that. If it was that important or I truly needed a timely answer, I’d just call them.
    I’ll go on record as claiming that texts, Facebook (and all it’s clones and replacements like tiktok, etc) are the cigarettes of the current generation. For those of use born long ago, I remember family members smoking that last cigarette before bed and grabbing the pack off the nighstand first thing in the morning for a cig. Watch people with their cellphones. Play on them till late in the night, wonder why your sleep patterns suck, then finally shut if off and go to bed. It is like trying to sleep on a casino floor; both have done very specific research on keeping people at the slot machine or getting them to click just one more listicle (sp?).
    Then first thing in the morning- reach over and fire it up again. This is the same addiction behavior I’ve seen by smokers. While this addiction per se doesn’t directly result in deaths or injury, certainly texting behind the wheel and everything else is super not good for mortality.

  17. Was it Facebook Messenger that replaced those former services and practices? I don’t remember, I don’t remember Facebook being used as the substitute for things like MSN or AIM. I thought it was more email and texting that became used more. Maybe “DMs” on Google+ or Twitter?

  18. +1 for the “always on communication in your pocket” being the issue.

    Nothing has driven this home more for me than starting work at a place where I cannot legally have my phone on my person – I have to leave it in my car for the whole day.

    People and businesses who contact me are genuinely shocked that I’m not always available and don’t return their calls/messages rapidly.

    I, for one, have enjoyed going back to a system where I can respond at a time that suits me.

  19. Online Chat was not the only casualty of facebook (and later permanent Instant messaging). Collective knowledge , one of the best childs of Internet, was deeply wounded when people started to migrate from newsgroups and forums to facebook and whatsapp groups.

  20. Same is true for WhatsApp. MSN provided a list of online and offline contacts and you could see who was available to chat. Conversations were live (instant messaging) instead of many hours between message and reply. Facebook messenger and WhatsApp changed the dynamics of this.

    1. I remember when friends tried to convince me to switch from ICQ to MSN in the early 2000s.

      At the time, I didn’t like the idea to join a Microsoft operated network.
      Because, Microsoft was considered being “evil”, after all. It had Apple’s reputation of today, kind of.

      At the time, though, Windows was considered a must-have, due to its popularity.

      In that era, there even were products like Wabi or SoftWindows, to run Windows applications on non-PC hardware.

      I still remembered the ‘propaganda’ of Windows 95 Setup that advertised to join Microsoft Network.
      Microsoft’s try to compete with the internet, I suppose.

    1. The pricing makes a big difference. For a price of 10-25 eurocents per message it quickly added up. So I often waited until I had enough to write in a text message or I’d reply with MSN or email instead.
      Another thing is that SMS is less instant. It took a longer time to send and before full touch keyboards it took longer to type. There was no indication in the mean time someone was typing a reply or that someone read your message, so you would just put your phone away.
      Lastly SMS only worked on your phone. There was no desktop application or web interface. So no notification popups on your PC. Only on your phone. So if you put your phone away there was no interruption (other than PC speakers buzzing when receiving a text message).
      But I agree with you that FB messenger didn’t fundamentally change things. It did contribute to a huge shift of how we communicate.

  21. I’ve noticed that most of my friends just have themselves set permanently offline on social media. That way there’s no presage respond and you can respond when you feel like it.

    We all have the one friend who assume the instant you pop online (turn on your PC, open your phone) you must be up for a 3 hour chat and it’s draining.

  22. .. and before the public internet/www and the cellphone/sms there were the various online services and pagers (aka beepers).
    There was CompuServe with its CB simulator most prominently, reaching way back to the early 80s or government operated services like Minitel in Europe that allowed sending messages.
    In my country, pagers like Skyper allowed receiving news (booked through an abonnement) or receiving of alphanumeric messages. Simpler devices received numbers, at least.

    1. So, I looked it up…


      [abɔnmɑ̃ ]


      (à une publication, un service) subscription

      (pour transports en commun, concerts) season ticket

      Collins French-English Dictionary © by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

  23. I think your attempt to distill the problem has meant you boiled off many more problems, but left you thinking you found “the” problem.. Since attention span is another factor, and recognizing that, and posting it along with several other things you missed is stupid (since no one will get to it) I’ll leave a list of other problems with no explanation, and a quick summary….but even that is probably mostly falling on deaf ears. And no, HaD comments aren’t the answer to the problem, and not a great place for conversation, so once I close this tab, I won’t be back.

    SaaS/User Rights/You are the product
    Privacy concerns
    ease of access to find on and offline things to fill your time and be busy all the time
    Societal Inertia (to continue using bad products)
    Short attention spans (SMS, Twitter, and TikToc as evidence) – already mentioned
    Reading Comprehension skills declining (Anecdotal evidence – but you can probably find studies to support, like just about any position on anything)
    Written language shannon entropy hovering around 3 means you can’t cram more meaning into shorter messages. Shortening some common words only helps a little.

    So to sum it up better than I could – The American journalist H. L. Mencken had this to say about quick fixes: “Every complex problem has a solution which is simple, direct, plausible — and wrong.” The idea that FB is *the* problem is an example of this. I didn’t include it in my list because you covered that aspect. But there are so many more facets to this problem. FB isn’t good. Its terrible. I’m not defending that company one bit. I’m simply saying that there is so much more going on, and it would take more than just adding status to all of our messaging apps to solve.

    1. You could be even more efficient and close the tab before you post the comment instead!

      Of course this doesn’t identify every factor, but the author makes it pretty reasonable to believe that they are just using facebook as an example, and that the title is phrased that way because it’s a common trope to say How X killed Y.

        1. Then again, it’s a good conversation starter – don’t get me wrong. It’s just that the internet is evolving from clickbait titles to clickbait articles in general.

  24. A lot of services now work by the life cycle of offering something to draw a crowd, then making it harder to leave and beginning to suck value out from those who can’t or don’t leave. So you get a steady stream of new things without the old ones completely going away, until maybe they get bought and folded into something else. But part of that means deliberate and consistent usage of something isn’t good enough; they need to grow the value that they extract from you, and using simple free or even one-time-purchased software to contact the same group of friends every now and then doesn’t give a lot of opportunity for that.

    Even voice doesn’t take very much resources or effort to host your own and have it work well. Video, screen sharing, remote control, etc may be a bit of mix and match when you exclude the big commercial options right now though. I don’t know that I could make it as easy to do a good job with those as Discord or Zoom and such have done, especially cross platform and everything.

  25. I’m still chatting on IRC every day. When people haven’t posted in a few hours and/or don’t respond to a ping, you can assume they’re not there. Sometimes people say when they’re going to bed or work but not always. It’s kinda laid-back and asynchronous, though it’s fun when someone is there chatting in real time also.
    Be the change you wish to see in the world. I’m not on Facebook, I’m not on Discord. I use the big three free software chats. IRC, XMPP, Matrix. IRC is my favorite. You can leave the boring world behind and forge your own path through a quieter area.

  26. The author’s main point is well taken. We can blame Facebook for a lot of things, but not for everything. The iPhone and Android probably had a bigger impact. 25-30 years ago, always-on internet was only at work and at university, let alone in your pocket. Overall, it was a less intrusive communications world.

    Both technology and society changed over the decades. Now life is a lot more cluttered. Technology is more distracting. Students and workers are less focused. One of my colleagues wasted a lot of time during work hours chatting with her distant friends via multi-user dungeons (part game, part chat, all social). To compensate, she spent the second half of the day being exceptionally productive. Later in life, she snapped out of this vicious cycle and switched to working half-time, but with dramatically more focus.

    In the 1990s, there was less of every kind of media. I rarely watched TV, and never alone. In grad school I was never at my desk. I carried a pager so my wife could reach me. I’d call her back on a nearby landline. Personal email accounts weren’t yet a thing, but mailing lists (“listservs”) were.

    For me at least, no cell phone until 2007, so no texting before then. Now, fortunately, I text infrequently, mostly with my family, so it doesn’t drive me nuts. But my son and his friends get (and send) so many texts that he has to ignore some of them.

    Conclusion: It’s complicated. Anthropologists of the future will be busy bees.

  27. This is why the simple text chat is the best.
    I’ve posted about Diversi-Dial (ddial) in the past. It’s simple, the interface is text chat and no need to worry about different protocols, or whether this will work with that, or that won’t work with this because of this, or that. is a modern recreation of 7 300 baud modems inside an Apple //e all being happy at 300 baud. :) Drop in say hi, hang around a while. :)

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