Text message madness

May 5, 2008

by Ivan Raconteur

The forces of darkness may have finally struck a deathblow to the English language in this country, and the weapon is text messaging on cell phones.

Young people use text messaging as a way to share every stray thought that enters their heads, and to keep track of where their little friends are and what they are doing. This is nothing new. Young people of every generation latch onto whatever fad is popular at the time.

Today, people even brag about the amount of time they waste exchanging useless messages about nothing.

The form these messages take is yet another setback for the language.

The development of word processing software with spelling and grammar correction encouraged some people to abandon any pretense of learning how to spell words.

The introduction of e-mail further eroded the language by encouraging an even more informal writing style in which the construction of proper sentences and paragraphs is ignored.

Now, we have text messaging.

In a few short years, this vile seducer has threatened to reduce a rich and beautiful language to a small collection of absurd shorthand abbreviations that are completely incomprehensible to anyone over the age of about 30.

Instead of using their mobile phones to actually have a conversation with another person, some people seem content with exchanging a series of letters and symbols. They say this is easier for them.

To be fair, an extensive vocabulary is probably not necessary if one never expresses any complex or creative thoughts.

Those who are hooked on text messaging also take pride in speed, as if there were some benefit in spewing vast amounts of useless information in the shortest time possible.

There are even competitions to see who can enter messages the fastest.

No doubt taxpayers can look forward to paying future medical costs for these people when they start filing disability claims related to some newly-diagnosed condition that results from the repetitive stress of non-stop text messaging.

It is not uncommon for some people to send thousands or even tens of thousands of messages each month, meaning that on average, they must be sending a message every few minutes during every waking hour, day in and day out. Face it – no one has that much interesting or important information to share.

What it really is, is the next step in the dumbing-down of America.

A generation that has as its role models celebrities who seem unable to utter complete sentences is now learning to write in a sort of idiotic shorthand.

In addition to mourning the death of a language that I love, one can see other side-effects of text messaging.

One can’t help think that all of us taxpayers are due for some sort of refund for the money we have paid for public education.

Apparently, one reason young people prefer to use text messaging is that it is easier for them to do this in class without being detected.

That’s just great. We spend a fortune to provide educational opportunities, and the knuckleheads who are supposed to be benefitting from this education aren’t even paying attention in class.

It is conceivable that text messaging adds a wealth of new opportunities for cheating on tests as well.

Even schools that have policies prohibiting cell phone use in class admit that it still goes on.

On the plus side, text messaging is a major breakthrough for teenagers.

It gives them something to do while they are busy tuning out their families. They can sit in a room or in a vehicle and exchange cryptic messages about those around them. This must give them a great feeling of superiority.

No doubt they congratulate themselves on how smart they are, and how clueless the adults around them are.

One can see them in restaurants or other public places. The tight-knit family group with the parents bravely trying to carry on a family conversation while the vacant-eyed kids sit pressing keys on their phones, oblivious to the world around them.

Some critics might suggest that it is rude to sit like a zombie and tune out the rest of the world, but teenagers have been doing this for years, so it is really nothing new.

From a societal perspective, it is bad enough that these digital zombies zone out in social settings, but it is even more troubling that these least experienced of drivers are now sending and receiving text messages while driving, giving them one more distraction to take their minds off the road.

They apparently find their trivial messages more important than the lives of others that they put in jeopardy by their behavior.

Text messaging is yet another step in shortening the attention span of young people. For years, watching countless hours of television has conditioned people to the point that they are no longer able to focus on anything for a time span longer than the ever-decreasing period between commercial breaks.

Now, the digital generation can no longer pay attention long enough to get through a conversation or even a complete sentence.

Their capacity seems to be limited to what they can convey in a few key strokes.

The point of communication is to exchange information, and creating a new language, albeit a very simplified one, that requires its own dictionary is an impediment, rather than an enhancement to communication.

This is only the beginning. Manufacturers in the nearly $30 billion cell phone sales and service industry are now marketing cell phones to pre-school kids, so in a few years, no one will actually have to talk to anyone else at all, and won’t that be nice?