Columns

2008.10.22 F? g2g? Stop! prw

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

Maddie is home from college for a weekend visit and we went across town to my parents house Saturday night.

While sitting around the kitchen table making a cake disappear, I watched Maddie reach into the pocket of her hooded sweatshirt and glance downward. I knew what she was doing. A text message had arrived.

A few minutes later another came through. Her cell phone must not have been as deep in her pocket when the next message came through because I heard the vibration.

I had to make the announcement at this point. I wasn’t embarrassing her; I was educating my parents.

“Maddie has received a text message and now she’s answering it,” I said, adding that it’s very rude to ignore it.

I had to be a smarty-pants about it because I had just learned that rudeness fact earlier in the day.

Myself, I’m pretty ignorant about modern communication. E-mail and an occasional digital chat are as far as it goes. I don’t own a cell phone and I haven’t yet had the desire to get one.

That sounds pretty old fogey of me. After all, even my parents have one.

I have managed to make a few calls on those rare times when my wife has persuaded me to take her phone along when I’m off traveling somewhere.

It’s an older, drab-looking model that doesn’t even fold up. When I use one of my kids’ phones, I usually end up photographing my ear or calling the wrong number, like the infamous incident when we were halfway to Kentucky and I was suddenly talking to Kylene Spiegel back in Morenci.

I learned Saturday that I’m not among the estimated three billion people who own cell phones. I have never sent even one of the estimated trillion text messages that were sent out in the past year.

In a review of a book called “Txtng: The Gr8 Db8” by David Crystal, the author says that these trillion message are but “a few ripples on the surface of the sea of language.”

The debate referred to in the title is whether texting is destroying language, or as reviewer Louis Menand puts it, “Is texting bringing us closer to the end of life as we can tolerate it?”

lol; g2g; brb; F?

I’m so bad at this that I don’t know if “lol” means “laughing out loud” or “lots of luck.” I see it at the end of e-mails occasionally and wonder.

A.S.A.P.; R.S.V.P.; B.Y.O.B. F.Y.I. c.c.  Phone. Thanx. People were playing with language before typewriter days and Crystal, a linguist, isn’t worried about the current episode. Texters know how to spell. Our language is safe. Go back 100 years and it was probably the new-fangled telephone that was going to destroy communication.

To Crystal, texting isn’t just communication, it’s also somewhat of a game. Why else would people send text messages when they’re sitting across from one another in the same room.

People enjoy texting, he points out. It’s not anarchy, it’s a challenge to ingenuity, to speak your piece within the 160-character limit, and to speak it quickly.

Menand’s article mentions that in the old days when so much communication came via e-mail at a desktop computer, people felt a lot of pressure to respond as quickly as possible. But in those days, he says it was understood that people sometimes must walk away from their desk.

In 2008, there’s no excuse for being without your cell phone. If you say that you didn’t have your phone, it’s obvious that you’re lying and trying to avoid someone. You must respond instantly, which is why I announced at the kitchen table that Maddie was obligated to write back.

Wanting my children to excel in life, I was disheartened to learn that Maddie isn’t able to text with her eyes closed. Four out of 10 teens make that claim.

She isn’t a two-thumbed texter, either, but she blames that on the limits of her phone. If I wish to buy a model with the full, expanded keyboard she might improve her skills.

I know enough to keep my distance. If I come too close, her thumb will enter a quick “prw.” That’s my favorite bit of text that kids use: parents are watching. I could have used that myself at the kitchen table.

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