Adopt, adapt, abandon: Understanding why some young adults start, and then stop, using instant messaging

Jeremy Birnholtz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Instant messaging (IM) has become a popular and important mode of staying in touch for teens and young adults. It allows for easy, frequent and lightweight interaction that contributes to building and sustaining friendships, as well as coordinating social activities. Despite the initial appeal of IM, however, some have found it too distracting and have changed their usage or abandoned it. I interviewed 21 former users of IM about their adoption, usage and eventual abandonment of the technology. Results show that participants were initially attracted to features of IM that enabled them to maximize their use of leisure time via easy and frequent interaction with their friends, but that, in a different usage context, these same features became distracting and annoying. Participants adapted their behavior to avoid these drawbacks, but IM did not support these adaptations effectively. In particular, IM did not allow for control over interruptions, which became more important as their contact lists grew and social time became scarce; and they ultimately abandoned the technology. These results point to a need for understanding use beyond adoption, and a theoretical and practical focus on understanding the adaptation and changing utility that accompany long-term usage of technologies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1427-1433
Number of pages7
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2010


  • Adoption
  • Computer-mediated communication (CMC)
  • Dropouts
  • Instant messaging
  • Young adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • General Psychology


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