So as I was just chatting with a friend today, I noticed again something I’ve noticed several times over the past few months–sometimes I’ll reply to something that’s said a split second after a new message is received. With the real time nature of instant messaging, the meaning of my reply still applied to the previous comments, even though it is listed in the chat history after the new message received (to which it does not apply).

A little background–I mainly use Google Talk. I like how my chat records are stored in my GMail account and I can go back and reference important information later on. For example, I recently asked a friend their address so I can send them an invitation to my upcoming wedding. [Excited? Yes!] I just relied on Google to store his response and I’ll go dig it up later when I get around to compiling the list of addresses. Sometimes I go back and review a conversation I had with someone a few days, weeks, or months before. I often wonder if someday in the future when I’ve passed on, if my children will have access to my old chat logs and reconstruct what was going on in my life when I was dating their mother.

After the fact, though, the timing of the messages is important. Sequence gives the main flow of the conversation–and for the most part is sufficient. But what about the responses that are recorded a split second after their proper place in the conversation? The meaning can change totally. For example, when I was just chatting with my friend, I asked why he had gone to California over the weekend.

Friend: so california was lovely
warm and the like
timehat: yeah i saw on your facebook that you were there… i didn’t know you left over the weekend. just a quick visit, huh?
Friend: yeah
timehat: going back for thanksgiving?
Friend: my brother came home
im planning to do it with [friend’s girlfriend]
timehat: oh, yeah, that’s right

Reading this log, as it is recorded in my GMail account, makes it sounds like I had known that my friend planning on having Thanksgiving dinner with his girlfriend, when I actually had no idea that was the case. What I did know was that his brother had just returned home from serving an LDS mission. The timing of the messages was just a second apart, but the meaning of my statement has a different meaning when that timing is erased.

It makes me wonder about how historians sort this sort of thing out with letters exchanged between parties. Perhaps two people sent two letters on the same day and responses are overlapping and out of sequence when reviewed strictly on a date-written basis. What about in court cases where chat records are obtained as evidence? Someone’s statements might be exactly opposite of the understood communication that actually took place. Like when I have responded to a friend, “Good!” after hearing some good news a split second after they then told me about some bad news that I had not yet read. It would appear that I was a heartless being that joyed in other’s misfortune. (Reminds me of people who click “Like” on Facebook when people post status updates about how they’ve had a bad day.)

Perhaps chat logs should only be used when each line is timestamped with the exact second the message was sent. Even then, some people respond to what they read first–even if a new message has already been received, but not yet read, that would require the exact opposite response.