Take a look at texting. The numbers seem to grow all the time but as of the Kaiser Foundation Study published in January 2010, young people were sending on average 3000 texts per month and were spending four times the amount of time texting than they were actually talking on their phones. And texting has created has influenced communications in several ways:
First of all, because people text on their cellphones, most must use a virtual keyboard on a touchscreen (Blackberry owners get to use the tiny physical keys, which is slightly more user friendly, I suppose.). In either case, the keys are much smaller than the average computer keyboard’s keys, so it’s easy to make mistakes. Plus, using the virtual keyboard also creates another level of awkwardness because you have to shift to a second (and on some cellphones a third) view to access all the characters on the QWERTY keyboard. In addition texting has the “short message service” limitation of 160 characters.
Then there’s the speed at which the communication is sent. Texts are delivered pretty much instantaneously. This leads people to think that they must respond at roughly the same speed. Delaying a response seems for many to imply that you’re ignoring the person contacted you.
The combination of a virtual awkward keyboard, the limited length, and the pressure to rapidly respond engenders the kind of shorthand of contracted words (Xlnt for excellent, rite for write), pictograms (b4 for before, @om for atom), initializations (N for no, LOL for laughing out loud, CWOT for complete waste of time), and nonstandard acronyms (anfscd for and now for something completely different, btdt for been there, done that, hhoj for ha, ha, only joking. Notice how the shorthand becomes more and more cryptic and we haven’t even talked about the emoticons—those variations on the ubiquitous smiley face using strings of punctuation
I know I’m old—way over thirty—but texting seems to me like the new pig Latin—another code designed to communicate secretly and to exclude others. In the case of pig Latin, the aim was to exclude parents. And for some ages the same may be true to today’s texting. It’s a silent and secret form of communication one can do in one’s lap under the dinner table. So essentially the technology of sending written messages via cell phones creates private languages.
Texting can be a convenient way to quickly notify someone, but the effects, especially for younger people, can be more far-reaching and burdensome and hardly convenient. Sherry Turkle met with one sixteen-year-old named Sanjay during her research for her new book Alone/Together. He expressed anxiety and frustration around texting. He turned off his phone while he spoke with Turkle for an hour. Turkle writes: “At the end of our conversation, he turns his phone back on. He looks at me ruefully, almost embarrassed. He has received over a hundred text messages as were speaking. Some are from his girlfriend, who, he says, “is having a meltdown.” Some are from a group of close friends trying to organize a small concert. He feels a lot of pressure to reply to both situations and begins to pick up his books and laptop so he can find a quiet place to set himself to the task. . . . “I can’t imagine doing this when I get older.” And then, more quietly, “How long do I have to continue doing this?” Sounds more like he’s facing a prison sentence rather than the joy of continuous connection . . .