October 17, 2008

Texting and Communication [12:06 pm]

From a review of the book Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 in The New Yorker: Thumbspeak (pdf)

A less obvious attraction of texting is that it uses a telephone to avoid what many people dread about face-to-face exchanges, and even about telephones—having to have a real, unscripted conversation. People don’t like to have to perform the amount of self-presentation that is required in a personal encounter. They don’t want to deal with the facial expressions, the body language, the obligation to be witty or interesting. They just want to say “flt is lte.” Texting is so formulaic that it is nearly anonymous. There is no penalty for using catchphrases, because that is the accepted glossary of texting. C. K. Ogden’s “Basic English” had a vocabulary of eight hundred and fifty words. Most texters probably make do with far fewer than that. And there is no penalty for abruptness in a text message. Shortest said, best said. The faster the other person can reply, the less you need to say. Once, a phone call was quicker than a letter, and face-to-face was quicker than a phone call. Now e-mail is quicker than face-to-face, and texting, because the respondent is almost always armed with his or her device and ready to reply, is quicker than e-mail.

“For the moment, texting seems here to stay,” Crystal concludes. Aun, as the Finns say. It’s true that all technology is, ultimately, interim technology, but texting, in the form that Crystal studies, is a technology that is nearing its obsolescence. Once the numeric keypad is replaced by the QWERTY keyboard on most mobile messaging devices, and once the capacity of those devices increases, we are likely to see far fewer initialisms and pictograms. Discourse will migrate back up toward the level of e-mail. But it will still be important to reach out and touch someone. Nok, though. Danke.

(You’ll have to read the article to get the quote.)

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