The Chronicle

of a ColdFusion Expatriate

How the 1990s Made Me an Introvert

August 30, 2021

It may be impossible to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’m an introvert because of how I spent the 1990s, but I’m damn sure going to try!

Let me be clear: I love how I am, mostly. I just turned 40 this year, so I’ve had plenty of time to think about it, and when it comes to my introversion and my communication preferences, I don’t want to change. But what do the 1990s have to do with it?

In short, I spent a lot of time on IRC.

IRC stands for “Internet Relay Chat.” If you haven’t heard of it—which I can forgive because it’s been rapidly dying off in the last few years—it is what it sounds like: a text-based chat system with public and private “channels,” private messaging, and file transfer capabilities.

As I wrote about previously, I started playing with computers when I was very young, certainly less than ten years old. By the time I was a teenager, I had the knowledge, interest, and free time to get very into IRC.

For years, I spent practically every free moment on IRC. When I say it that way it might sound kind of sad, but the truth is that I made a couple of my longest-lasting friendships there, and IRC exposed me to people from all around the world, which I continue to believe was a valuable experience for me at that age.

Eventually, outside of IRC, I started communicating with all of my real-life friends through instant messengers. There was ICQ, and then the venerable AOL Instant Messenger (or “AIM.”)

The payoffs were many. IRC provided a forum-like experience where we met new people, traded files (sometimes of suspect legality), and had lengthy group conversations about topics of interest. It was like a club that was always having a meeting at any time of day or night.

Meanwhile, instant messaging provided convenience and reliability that didn’t exist in the pre-cellphone world. For me, it was a time of huge social velocity, even though to any outsider it would appear as though I was just typing quietly to myself.

As a result of these years steeped in multi-threaded text conversation, juggling multiple individual chats at once, and learning to express my thoughts and emotions clearly through writing, I reached a point where text-based communication was not only easy but actually preferable.

And look, there are obvious advantages: you can take the time to ensure that exactly what you want to say is expressed precisely, and nobody will ever see any half-baked thought that you choose not to send; you can have more than one conversation at once (though I wouldn’t recommend having important or serious conversations this way); and best yet, you can do all of that while listening to music, or relaxing ambient sounds.

Our lives are increasingly led in chats, whether it’s your company’s Slack or your bank’s chat bot, or your congressperson’s Twitter DMs. I’ve come to realize that I’m just a lot more comfortable and happy in chat than others, and as our work goes more hybrid, that feels like an advantage.

How about you? Do you like chat, or does it stress you out?