January 15th, 2004.

I don't do 'text.'

Thanks to the technogeek who long ago found a way to allow mobile phones to send text messages limited to one hundred and sixty characters, it would seem that people in the UK, especially females under the age of twenty-two, have lost the ability to write simple English. Instead they now only seem able to write in the emerging shorthand language with the most uninspiring of uninventive names; 'text,' as in text messages used on mobile phones. It's the new 'slanguage' of fools, better even than Esperanto!

Such is my annoyance with the staggering penetration into our daily lives that the SMS (Short message services) phenomenon has had, I have come up with a new policy: I simply ignore all text messages sent to my mobile phone unless they require a response for safety or important informational reasons. Text messages such as "hey wot u up 2?" are now met with silence, not a word, not even a word with letters missing. Nothing. However, if the person who sent the text message chooses to call me, then that's okay. I am happy to chat on the phone, but thumbing some badly written text message? No!

Last November alone I sent 178 text messages, each costing me 10p and taking me far longer to type than it would have to simply speak the appropriate response. If the person had simply used the phone in the way Alexander Graham Bell had originally intended they would have saved me a lot of time and trouble sitting there thumbing tiny little letters onto a micro-sized screen that will surely do nothing but increase my chances of becoming short-sighted!

Text messages are, on the whole, nothing but a nuisance, an interruption, and often a disruption. I have considered having the 'feature' of text messaging on my mobile phone switched off to halt the growing influx of garbled rubbish that beeps and vibrates its way into existence. I've even given serious thought to doing away with my mobile phone entirely!

Picture the scene, if you will. You're chatting over lunch with a friend when, 'Beep beep, beep beep,' they get a text message. Straight away they're no longer listening to you, instead, they're reading the message. You become distracted by this interruption because now they start tapping away on their phone, thumbing a response, completely unaware of how insulted you are. You stop speaking while they tap away at the tiny numeric keypad, only to have them say "Carry on, I'm just texting."

Their reasoning, of course, is that text messages are somehow less intrusive than an actual telephone call. However, if the phone rang then they might say "I'm actually at lunch with my friend at the moment, can I call you back?" But right now they're 'texting,' happy to thinly spread their attention between you and their damn mobile phone. After they press send they'll ask you to repeat your last few sentences because no matter how hard they tried, they didn't hear what you just said because they 'texting' rather than listening! You repeat yourself of course, but just like them, you're now waiting for the inevitable reply to the text message they just sent.

Now though, 'text' is infiltrating everyday life like American brand culture and fast food. People (especially girls I notice) are starting to shut down the language parts of their brains to write emails and letters composed entirely in text message shorthand. And with the limitation of only being able to send 160 character messages lifted, they seem to rejoice in an orgy of little words with letters missing and mammoth blocks of text that are unbroken by paragraphs or punctuation.

More and more people seem to find it acceptable to send emails written in 'text', emails that are as ugly to look at as they are hard to read. Huge blocks of airtight text, mixed and mangled together like smashed cars in a road accident. Each difficult sentence follows the last like the incoherent shards of conversation as a dentist works on his patient's teeth. The suffocated words leave the reader racing to get to the end of the email so as they can gasp for breath like a pearl diver after an impossibly long exploration of the sea bed.

I strain to understand such messages. They read like badly spelled broken English that requires an effort to decipher. It infuriates me knowing that the person who wrote this speaks with the same mother tongue as I. They tell me of course that it's far easier and quicker to read and write 'text' but their emails leave me unconvinced.

"Yo, watch bin up2 l8ly dod hey? Happy BDAY!!! Woodwind u do2 celebr8+woodwind u get? I went 4 a meal on thurs wi faze me bro+his m8 2celebr8 Farrell+FA bs bdays.It woozy a lard, but even moor of a lard woozy my uncles 50th bay party on friday with much drinking and dancing thor I'd b doing YMCA sitting down huh? Ne ways rite me beak pronto simon...cya!"

Even Scotland's oldest tongue is getting the text-message treatment as Gaelic-speaking mobile phone users have managed to devise a way to combine the two infamously difficult languages. According to the newspaper, Scotland on Sunday, asking one of the other 60,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland on a date has been hacked down from An Enid thus Omaha ri um? (Will you go along with me?) to 8Ucolrm? Desired nab saccharin, for weekend, has been cut down to dn7n while saying taped bleat, Gaelic for thank you, has been cut to tap l@.

Marilyn Gillies, the compiler of Gaelic’s first text-message dictionary and editor of a youth-orientated Gaelic website, dismissed concerns that the text abbreviated version of the language would undermine Gaelic literacy. Indeed she even went as far as claiming that it would get children into the habit of using Gaelic in more and more contexts. But I have already seen evidence to suggest that 'text' does indeed affect literacy, with people using text abbreviations not only in email but also serious business communications and even job applications!

It seems however that those who love to text rubbish could be at risk of getting a painful payback for their love of text in the form of a 'Text Message Injury' (TMI), a form of repetitive strain injury (RSI). A fact that Australian authorities felt serious enough about to warrant a national awareness program in which Australians were urged to practice 'safe text', though I am not entirely sure what that involves.

Quite apart from the physical concerns of excessive 'texting' is the worry that a growing number of people could become 'textaholics.' Fifty-five people were being treated in the UK last year at an exclusive clinic for those suffering from Text Message Addiction, a condition that Dr. Mark Collins, of the Priory Clinic in south-west London, claims is a growing problem.

Of course, it won't be long now until the useful mobile phone in my pocket starts receiving spam text messages from advertisers and scammers keen to liberate me from my money. That would probably lead to my phone spending more time switched off than on, and if it got bad enough then I would ask my mobile phone provider to simply remove the SMS functionality from my phone.

I know that these days a mobile phone is, more often than not, much more than simply a phone, and as useful as I know 'mobile technology' is, I'd rather simply use my phone the old fashioned way. If people want to have a chat with me then they can call me because from now on I don't do text!


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