Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Txt Me L8R

Sometimes The New Yorker makes itself just sound old. At least, that’s what I thought when I read this article on text messaging by Louis Menand. The article makes a lot of good points about how linguists find the unique misspellings in text messaging fascinating, but Ezra points out a lot of the flaws.

I have one more to add.

This passage is just weird:

Usually, if you can text a person you can much more quickly and efficiently call that person. But people sometimes text when they are close enough to talk face to face. People like to text. Why is that?

Crystal’s answer is that texting is, partly, a game. It’s like writing a sonnet (well, sort of): the requirement is to adapt the message to immutable formal constraints. A sonnet can’t have more than fourteen lines, and a mobile-phone message can’t have more than a hundred and forty bytes, which is usually enough for a hundred and sixty characters. This is a challenge to ingenuity, not an invitation to anarchy.

Okay, sure. Text messaging is like writing a sonnet. But Menand also seems to forget that a lot of times text messaging serves a practical purpose. Probably the reason people are texting each other while standing next to one another is because it’s a way to send a private message to someone even if you’re in a big group. It’s also really useful when you’re in a loud club or bar to locate a friend. Rather than attempting to scream into your cell phone louder than the background noise, you simply send a written text message to your friend sitting in the back booth. It eliminates the need to waste time searching for your friends and reduces the annoying nature of public cell phone use.

Perhaps next time The New Yorker should commission an article about text messaging from someone who actually uses it well instead of getting 56-year-old Menand, excellent writer though he may be, to cover a new technology he clearly isn’t all that familiar with.

Cross posted at Pushback.

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