Friday, April 17, 2009

Not so gr8 - how text speak became the language of love

Picture the familiar scene: the lights are low and the air is oven-hot, the music loud enough to make your eardrums bleed. Wave after wave of drunken pub-goers crowd the dance floor like ants over a melted ice cream cone in June. Then, out of the corner your eye, you see her. Struggling to remain vertical in her six-inch heels, she could be trying to ice-skate on stilts, but to you at that moment she is most beautiful creature you have ever seen. And, joy oh joy, she’s walking - just about - towards you.

After screaming pleasantries into one another’s unfortunate ears – and after permanent hearing loss is assured for the both of you - you share a not quite magical kiss (say, a little more ‘Night of the Living Dead’ than ‘Sleepless in Seattle’). The night draws to a close and you make your way home with a name and phone number, the promising seeds of a second meeting.

The standard procedure then is to send a casual text message to your pub princess, to which you will often receive a reply in ‘text speak’ so impenetrable that it could have been written by a blind, fingerless chimpanzee. Whole sentences can be boiled down into short acronyms, punctuation can be as scarce as water in the Sahara and vowels seemingly become unnecessary. What is worrying about this often bewildering lexicon, though, is that it isn’t used simply for convenience sake when other forms of communication are impractical, but has become an integral part of the process of meeting and getting to know people. Texting is not just a handy way to arrange a meeting or express a quick sentiment; it has become a conversational tool in itself. As a device, however, it is utterly inadequate for expressing any sort of real emotion or opinion.

Inane

Due to the way they are constructed, I could have the same text ‘conversation’ with a thousand different people and never know the difference. The same inane stock questions and phrases make up the majority of texts, meaning that one never has to think about what they are actually saying.

An expression such as ‘RALMAO’ (Rolling around laughing my ass off) may as well be meaningless because all it does is allow the speaker to avoid actually expressing how, in this case, funny something is. And yet, this is how so many guys and gals get to know one another during the early stages of dating. How could one ever decide if they wanted to see someone again in real life based on a few hundred characters in a text?

Then, of course, there is the very real possibility of misinterpretation. With no tone of voice to refer to, sarcasm and irony don’t translate so well, and while this is also true of something like email, people don’t rely on it anywhere near as much for flirting or long conversations. An apparently playful remark to a girl or guy of your fancy can end up sounding rude or even downright offensive, leaving you having to make it up to someone you barely even know.

And, for the love of God, if you have to text, always, always double-check whose name is highlighted when you press ‘send’. I once heard of a guy who (so he thought) text his best friend worried about whether he should tell his girlfriend about his illicit shenanigans with someone else. The best friend and girlfriend’s names shared a few letters in common. Needless to say, the text wasn’t sent to the right person and someone got dumped. I guess that was one text message, at least, that was pretty hard to misinterpret.



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