Onlookers, rejoice. Gmail has launched a new invisibility feature which removes all the social pressure of instant messaging while maintaining its voyeuristic joy. "Invisible" takes "busy" to its logical conclusion: You can be on chat to see who else is there without having to talk to anyone. But beneath this new feature lies an instant message prisoner's dilemma.
Going invisible is effectively ratting out your accomplice. You enjoy all the benefits of gchat—the brilliant orange, the anticipation of seeing someone type—without any obligation to recently contacted to acquaintances.
Of course, if you're thinking of ratting out your accomplice, he's thinking the same thing. After all, everyone would prefer to choose when to talk to people.
But even if you're devoted to your accomplice, there's no promising that he will be faithful to you. If you stay available on gchat and put up a cleverly message about the how you're bored at work, all your contacts could be invisibly making fun of your neediness.
And if both prisoners rat each other out, what has been gained? If everyone is invisible, gchat will no longer be the post-AIM instant message scene it has become. There will be no gchat statuses to mock. Mini-internet drama will ensue as nascent lovers wonder if their beau really is invisible or is just ignoring their messages. And if one's true gchat status is obscured, how can feelings ever be open?
Like the prisoners dilemma, the greatest good for the greatest number is to be loyal and available to chat. But each has the most to gain if by being treacherous and invisible.
To be available or invisible: It's one for the ages.