When I first taught my grandma to use email and IM, I used a familiar analogy. Emails are like letters and IM is like a phone conversation. One is more formal, typically longer, and responses may take a while. Instant messenges are like phone conversations - a quick back-and-forth type thing.
Lately, though, I find myself craving something in-between.
I have certain friends with whom IM conversations are great. When one of us has something to say, we say it. If not, the conversation fades into the background until someone once again has something to say. It might be minutes, hours or days before the response arrives. We respect that we're both probably multi-tasking and reading webpages or writing emails at the same time.
No bullshit small talk to fill time, no staring at the screen waiting for someone to respond. It's a beautiful thing.
Most people expect IMs to be like a phone conversation, though. Immediate responses and full attention and such.
I could stop using IM and switch to a medium like email that's by nature asychronous. Emails feel overly formal, though, and I guarantee that I'd lose touch with people if I went that direction. It's just so much easier to dash off a quick, informal hello on IM. Seeing someone who's logged into IM also implies a certain amount of consent - I'm here! I'm online! Talk to me! - so you generally know that you won't be bothering them.
I suppose I should just suck it up and make more time for people - give them my full attention and such, yadda, yadda..
It's just that doing so feels, like, soooo last century.