Available, Busy, Idle or Ninja?

What your Gchat status says about you.

By Dave Levitan, published November 24, 2009 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

It has happened to all of us. The Gchat message comes in with an immediate warning: "xxx@gmail.com is offline and can't receive messages right now." Well what the hell? You're offline but you can chat me anyway? No fair!

This, of course, makes use of the invisible function on Gmail's chat utility. Some call it ninja-style: you come and go without leaving a trace, undetectable to even the most vigilant sleuth. I'll say it again: No fair. You can reach me but I can't reach you-well, until that first message comes in, but it's the initiation of contact that is important. People who go the way of the ninja defend their position like this: "I don't want all my friends bothering me." Well la-di-da, aren't you popular?

Using the ninja approach says a lot about you, but so do other Gchat options. I have friends who are permanently green-dotted, even while asleep; others habitually mark themselves as busy, which combines the "I am SO off limits right now" message of the ninjas with a "Look at me! I'm important and unable to speak with you because you're way less important!" type of exhibitionism.

My own particular brand of Gchat weakness has to do with being idle: once I go orange-dotted, I tend to look down my list at who is around and might notice me before I am willing to green-dot myself. I asked Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D., a media expert and Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, what this practice and other Gchat habits say about us.

Always/Often Green:

Rutledge: "This is an extrovert who feels that he always needs to be available. It's someone who is too much of a caretaker, or someone who is narcissistic and assumes you always want to see him."

Idle/Orange (Even When at the Computer):

Rutledge: "It might mean that she's feeling like she wants to have a little bit of protection from the exposure, which is a normal human thing. It might mean that she's a bit more introverted than extroverted."


Rutledge: "That's one way of call screening. Or, call that person an introvert, because he wants to have the option of not responding. He's protecting his own boundaries; maybe he's working or doing something where he doesn't want to be interrupted, but he's not missing from the face of the earth."

Ninja /Invisible:

Rutledge: "This is like stalking, but it's a level of stalking that isn't negative. It's a technologically advanced and effective way of eavesdropping. [Messaging someone who can't message you] is a kind of hostile response, though. If that is someone's standard operating procedure, it's a power trip."

Annoying Song Lyrics as a Gchat Status Message:

I'll answer this one myself. Coldplay somehow explains your current degree and specific genre of angst, and you want the entire world to know about it. If my derision isn't clear, you're not paying close enough attention. Gchat me and I'll clarify for you.