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Ru there? K cu l8r!

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By John Pawlak

Technology is defined as “the practical application of knowledge.” Well, that’s the definition anyway. Practical? Perhaps. Knowledge? It’s getting harder to tell. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Technology is practically ebbing into the crevasses of society and filling them with tar of obfuscation.

Okay ... rewind. I’m not trashing technology. I happen to love technology. I adore my 42” flat-screen TV. I relish being able to cook food without having to go outside and chop wood. Indoor plumbing is a fluid joy and I really like the fact that I can talk to my family using a phone while they’re 2,000 miles away. To tell the truth, I enjoy even more the fact that they’re 2,000 miles away!

Technology makes life easier and in many cases even possible. But there is one technology that scares me ... texting. Watching its evolution over the past years has been like witnessing a train wreck in slow motion. Consider the following conversation I overheard a couple weeks ago while walking down the hallway between classes. Two girls were talking (not communicating, just talking) about text messaging. NOTE – please let this next paragraph bend the punctuation rule and just be presented as a single quote:

“Did you get my text? - Your text? Yeah, like I texted you back. I didn’t see it. Yeah but you know, I just texted you. Oh, I didn’t see it so I texted you again.

You texted me again? Yeah, why didn’t you text me before? Well you know, like I was in class. Oh, well what did you text back? Nothing. Well, I texted you ‘cause like Steve texted you and you didn’t text him back. Steve texted me? So well, what did he want? Well I don’t know, Alicia texted him about something you texted.

Yeah, so like why did you text me? Because you didn’t text him, you know, so he texted me. So I should text him? Yeah I guess, he wanted to know if you got his text. So he texted you about me? No, well yeah. He wants you to text him. Well, I’ll text him after class, okay? You want me to text him? No but, well no I’ll text him, okay?”

I walked away. I couldn’t listen to anymore, not without risking losing my textual cookies.

It was kind of like listening to a mix between a Smothers Brothers skit and a shadowy intro by Rod Serling. I wanted to scream at the girl, “Go talk to Steve! Go find Steve and TALK to him!” Sometimes I really do fear for our future. It’s amazing how language has developed over the centuries. Language evolves as society’s interactive needs change and the changes in language can themselves direct some of those needs.

It becomes a linguistic circle, and it’s sometimes hard to discern the literary cart from the texted horse. Linguistic archaeology is a fascinating study and it’s a shame that we don’t teach it in schools. Maybe if we texted this stuff to the kids, they’d read it?

Text messages have become a staple in the teenage diet and teenagers now text an average of 3,146 messages a month (this trend shows no signs of slowing down). Many teens skew that average by sending several hundred text messages every day.

One teen made the news a year ago by sending 14,528 text messages in a single month. I’m sure that record has been shattered many times now. Excessive texting is correlated with distraction in school, failing grades, repetitive stress injuries and sleep deprivation (not to mention all those blistered thumbs).

Additionally, linguistic experts are worried about declining communication skills. The average vocabulary is around 50,000 words.  (Eliminate swear words and that probably drops to 3,000.) Teenagers have an average working vocabulary of 10,000 words or so, but generally use only 800 words a day.

One study showed that the top 20 words they use including staples such as ‘well, ‘yeah,’ ‘no,’ ‘but,’ ‘okay,’ ‘like’ and ‘what,’ account for about a third of their daily speech. An example of typical teen text-talk is as follows: “Yeah but no but yeah but no but what-eva okay like yeah.”

So when did talking face to face go out of style? What happened to sitting down and using plain English to talk about the weather, a movie you saw last week, a good joke someone told you or just talking to pass the time?

Or sitting down and writing a letter to your aunt or uncle just to say hi and tell them what’s going on in your life lately?

A pencil can write about 50,000 words, five times the entire vocabulary of a teenage and over 60 times the number of words they use in a day.

If we could only invent a pencil with buttons on it, maybe kids would use it.