Military discovers instant-messaging

It seems the U.S. military has discovered instant-messaging — and loves it. During the war on Iraq, military staff at all levels have found that typing short messages is a supremely efficient way of communicating in a crisis. From a story at Federal Computer Week:

A Navy commander who recently returned from the Middle East said today that chat and secure telephones were the primary communications circuits Navy ships used at sea during the war ….

In addition to chat rooms, joint and coalition forces used numerous other means to communicate, including the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET), the Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network and the Combined Operations Wide-Area Network. “The SIPRNET and IP connectivity allowed us to win this war as fast as we did,” Sorber said.

The secret network not only enables chats, but is agile, flexible and has dynamic bandwidth capabilities that were not hindered, as most other systems were, by the saturated satellite pipes that were used extensively throughout southwest Asia, he said.

However, the soldiers ran into the same social problems that plague those other, fervent early-adopters of instant messaging: Bored office workers and teenagers. When you can chat with nineteen message windows open simultaneously, cognition can become chaotic and filled with nearly Elizabethan subterfuge:

Chat quickly became overused in some situations, including one chat room at the Combined Air Operations Center that had 900 people participating at once, said Navy Cmdr. Tim Sorber, knowledge officer for Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Group 8. He spoke today at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ Human Systems Integration Symposium in Vienna, Va.

Such a large number of people in a chat room “is a nightmare,” Sorber said … For example, some users were communicating privately with one another, or “whispering,” during chats so that they didn’t clog the main conversation. This became problematic because the whisperers were brokering important deals that cut other decision-makers out of the loop. This caused the commander to quickly outlaw the practice, Sorber said.

(Thanks to the Corante Social Software Blog for this one!)

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson