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Text Messaging and the End of Culture

I can let a lot of things go, but if I ever find my daughter under a rock text messaging someone something that resembles “PXT :)” I might take her by the hand and make her share a cheeseburger with me at McDonald’s in the hopes that, at the very least, she asks me for some fries and experiences a bit of Americana.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m for inane gossip and conversation as much as the next guy, but let’s keep it in its proper place in the scope of human interaction like, say, face-to-face meetings, audible exchanges over a phone of some kind, or good-old-fashioned e-mail.

And I?m no technophobe, either.  I haven?t written a letter Ben Franklin style in more than a decade, and I?ve got a LAN.  But it?s one thing to call someone and describe waiting in line for coffee or to e-mail someone with offensive grammar, never really say anything, and write only to get a reply back so you can tell yourself, ?People like me.?

I get that.

What I don?t get are people who basically study, learn, and apply an elaborate language of text-message abbreviations when most phones allow for about 160 characters per message.  Short of dropping a CUL8R on somebody once in a while, I don?t see the use or the appeal.

Sure, abbreviations are shorter.  But how many characters do you need to say, ?gonna be late and miss dinner.  be home at 10,? or ?are you going to jen?s?  me and kate are going.  you should go.? 

Maybe I just don?t have that much to say.  Or maybe it?s people who abbreviate who have nothing to say and like sending off virtual nothingness, KNIM?  Or maybe I?ve just never been part of a sub-culture.

But at least most sub-cultures are interactive and help define a person?s identity.  Take Anime people.  They get excited about Anime and even talk about it with other people, often in person and at large conventions.  Or take people who learn Tolkien?s Elvish language and speak it to anyone who will listen.  They?ve at least read or skimmed a classic piece of literature at one time and when you describe them to someone you say, ?Yeah, that guy really loves Tolkien.  He?s a trip . . . He even knows Elvish.?

I can handle that.  I just don?t get text-message abbreviators — lovers of the throw-away phrase.  It must be a sort of addiction.

Though I do suppose sending abbreviated text to your friend when you can’t write a full sentence is fun and fanciful for about one second — if you?re 12 and detained in a classroom somewhere.  

But no matter how fun it is, the day your kid likes memorizing random text-message abbreviations — which isn?t unlike memorizing the Periodic Table — more than classic childhood vices like going to the mall or playing video games, you should perhaps be concerned that the thing some refer to as socialization isn’t quite happening.

Just look at video games.  Long the symbol of vapid youth, video games, by comparison, are harmless — assuming you believe that art imitates life and not the other way around.  Video games certainly do an excellent job making some kids heavier and odder than they should be, but at least video games have some redeeming qualities: They’re entertaining; they’re social outlets — when not played alone in a dark room; and they improve hand-eye coordination.  Video games, by comparison, are great.

I could think of about 7 million things a kid should learn — one being the English language and another being Mario Kart — before they learn what GR&D, YMMV, or TTTT mean.

Let?s stop the madness — PLZ.

Chris Ehrlich is a Portland-based copywriter.  (

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