And as a meta-disclaimer, I also hate it when writers point out that they know what they're doing is annoying and then do it anyway, like the acknowledgement somehow erases the annoyingness.
However. I know tons of people in the same boat as me--IM was useful in college, but every time you logged on after you got messages from some guy who used to be in your dorm but that you don't want to hear from anymore. Or you log onto the one you made for your old job and your old cubemate is all "Hey buddy!! How's life outside Initech?" But if you make a totally new screen name, you've got no one to talk to, because all your friends are afraid to log on.
Allow me to urge you to make your friends to get new screen names (again, assuming you haven't already done this. If so, sorry) and jump back into the IM pool. I even forced some of my co-workers that I like to get it, and it's great. Just like college, only I spend a mandatory seven hours in front of my computer, desperate for distraction.
The only downside is that, unlike gmail, the chats are ephemeral. I mean, you can save them if you want, but that seems a little obsessive. When are you going to go look over those? My gmail, on the other hand, I've started using as a kind of diary. Every once in a while, I get this strange panicky need to know exactly what I was doing/feeling/thinking about one year ago. Or when I was twenty-four. Or every night last week. I used to try and keep an actual diary for this purpose, but I always got embarrassed when I read over it, so I started making the entries terser and more business-like, until they were just lists of stuff I'd done that day and therefore completely useless for my purposes.
Gmail, on the other hand, saves everything I thought about enough to want to talk to someone about on a particular date, with the date and time stamp and searchable about a million different ways. On email, you're writing for someone else, so it's not embarrassing (or less embarrassing) to read, but all the information is there. It's cool to read conversations Frank and I had two years ago about what was going on in the news or whatever. It perfectly captures the time and place and feeling, which is what I wanted a diary to do all along. Plus sometimes we make the future me laugh, which feels good. Ha ha! Past me was funny.
Anyway, so my worry is that with IM now, I'm losing those little conversational snapshots. Even though I made fun of it not 300 words ago, I am actually saving the conversations, though I'm not sure where the IM program saves them to, so I seriously doubt I'll ever really go look through them. And please don't tell me to use gmail chat. I don't know why, but I just don't like it.
I guess maybe the answer is to stop being such an obsessive freak, which I will definitely work on. But in the meantime, go getcherself IM if you haven't got it already. It's still free, and I feel like it's the only thing AOL has ever done right. Using it again is like nostalgia plus convenience plus the illicit thrill of talking about someone who is standing two feet away, all rolled into one. Also, you should see the technological advances they've made in the field of buddy icons and dancing emoticons. Surely, a cure for cancer cannot be far behind.