Lentis/Sociology of Texting

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Cellular phone with QWERTY keyboard
Two women texting

Text messaging, or texting, is a method of communication in which short text messages are exchanged using mobile phones.

This chapter addresses the public attitudes toward and social effects of texting. There are a wide range of social aspects, including driving while texting or sexting, but the chapter will focus on language and relationships for children and teenagers. We will also consider how texting varies across cultures.

Background[edit | edit source]

The first text message was sent in 1992 through the Vodafone network in England. It took several years for cellphone manufacturers and telecommunication companies to make the feature easy to use [1]. However, starting in around 1995, text messaging use has exploded in popularity. In the United States, the number of text messages exchanged increased from about 1.4 billion in 1998 to more than 1.8 trillion in 2010 [2]. While people of all ages own cellular phones with text messaging capabilities, a disproportionately large percentage of text messages are exchanged by teenagers, especially teenage girls. The average adult in the U.S. exchanges 10 text messages per day. Boys age 14-17 exchange 30 texts per day, while girls in the same age range average 100 texts per day [3].

Texting and Literacy[edit | edit source]

The abbreviations and slang associated with text messaging is referred to as textese. The development of textese is often discussed with respect to its  history [4] and its parallel development with internet slang as part of  internet linguistics. There have been several cases where textese has been used outside of text messages. These incidents, along with several other factors, have led to debate about the impact of textese on the English language and its subsequent implications on the  literacy of youth.

Evidence of a Real Phenomenon[edit | edit source]

In 2003, a 13 year old student in Scotland handed in an essay written entirely in textese [5] In 2006, New Zealand’s Qualification Authority announced the use of textese would be permitted on national exams [6]. A study by the Pew Research center shows that teens who own cell phones are significantly more likely to incorporate textese into their school writing than teens who do not own cell phones [7]. Furthermore, authoritative reference guides, such as the AP Stylebook [8] and the Merriam Webster Dictionary [9], also include textese.

Criticisms of Textese[edit | edit source]

It is the relentless onward march of the texters, the SMS (Short Message Service) vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago. They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.

John Humphrys, I h8 txt msgs: How texting is wrecking our language

Some believe that the use of textese will lead to a decline in the quality of the English language. The Economist states, "Text messaging corrupts all languages" [10]. Individuals, such as John Humphrys and John Sutherland, have also expressed frustration with the impact of textese [11] [12].

Popular culture also associates texting with poor language and grammar, as evidenced on the website GraphJam [13], [14] Commercials, such as Cingular’s “idk my bff jill” ad from 2007, also draw attention to the impact of texting on language - frustration especially for parents [15].

One study in particular describes how over fifty percent of the students themselves who were surveyed felt that texting either does or will negatively affect their ability to remember standard English [16].

Another criticism of texting is its effect on literacy. A study published in the Journal of Research in Reading found that “the use of textisms was negatively correlated with scores for reading, nonword reading, spelling and morphological awareness… concerns that frequent texting may mask or even contribute to poor linguistic skills cannot be dismissed" [17]. The chairman of the Queen’s English Society has described this issue as urgent [18].

Support for Textese[edit | edit source]

The impact of textese has also been described as a natural phenomenon [19]. For centuries, people – such as William Shakespeare, Noah Webster, and George Orwell – have been innovating language [20] [21].

But it is merely the latest manifestation of the human ability to be linguistically creative and to adapt language to suit the demands of diverse settings. There is no disaster pending... In texting what we are seeing, in a small way, is language in evolution.

David Crystal, 2b or not 2b

One study of children ages 10 to 12 found positive correlation between the use of textese and literacy [22]. Other studies have simply shown that there is no negative correlation [23] [24].

Even with these studies, some sources, such as the Former National Writing Project Executive Director Richard Sterling, feel that students are simply not given enough credit [25] [26]. Students themselves agree that they know when it is appropriate to use textese in their communications [27].

Furthermore, several studies have shown that the negative perception of the current state of textese – rife with abbreviation, misspellings, and grammatical mistakes – is exaggerated. As Crispin Thurlow describes in his study of 544 text messages, “abbreviations in fact accounted for less than 20% (18.75%) of the overall message content.” [28] David Crystal cites similar figures [29]. Furthermore, as proposed by Thurlow in another study, media and popular culture create a heightened negative perception through both statistical and anecdotal manipulation [30].

Future of Textese[edit | edit source]

Despite this debate, it appears that texting is here to stay. Today, lesson plans that incorporate textese are readily available on the Internet [31]. One particularly interesting plan that appears on multiple teaching websites, including Scholastic and the Yale Teaching Initiative, suggests using textese to help students understand Shakespeare, learn about the evolution of language, and consider texting etiquette [32] [33] [34]. With a proposal by British mobile company Dot Mobile to condense classic literature to a series of text messages and a website offering Shakespeare’s works translated to textese, such ideas are not that unreasonable [35]. It will be interesting to see how incorporating textese in the classroom will shift not only the amount and style of textese but also the perceptions of the impact of textese on language and literacy in the future.

Texting and Relationships[edit | edit source]

Changes in the Dynamic of Teenage Communication[edit | edit source]

For many teenagers, text messaging has replaced calling or online instant messaging as the primary mode of communication. Most engage in extended conversations through text and some may take part in as many as nine conversations simultaneously [36]. Texting also serves as support for or against the Walkman Effect. Teenagers can connect with many more people but at the expense of the depth of these connections. Studies indicate that teenagers text primarily for three reasons: "chatting, coordinating, and planning."[37] Some of the most popular reasons for sending a text message include asking or replying to a question, asking where someone is, making requests, announcing something, or informing of lateness [38]. Text messaging has become such an integral part of many teenagers' lives that some have become uncomfortable with direct forms of communication such as face to face and phone conversations. There are various occasions when teenagers deem it socially appropriate to text rather than call or talk face to face, which exacerbates this issue.

Romantic Relationships[edit | edit source]

As in the video Texting In Class, “love letters are a thing of the past" due to the emergence of texting. Additionally, texting has had a major effect on the formality of asking someone to prom. A survey done in San Diego in April, 2010 showed that 40% of teens would consider using a text message to ask someone to prom and 64% of teens said that they would accept a date if they were asked via text message. While people like Drew Olanoff, director of community for GOGII, say “Texting is kind of becoming normal to them and it is okay”, there are individuals such as Elaine Swann, an etiquette expert, who say “what is happening to kids these days? It is inappropriate.”[39]

Relationship-based Social Disorders[edit | edit source]

There are several disorders associated with texting. Textaphrenia is thinking a message had arrived when it hadn't, textiety is the anxious feeling of not receiving or sending text messages, and binge texting is when teens send multiple texts to feel good about themselves and try to attract responses [40]. All of these disorders have to do with the desire to maintain relationships with people. A lack of these relationships can lead to loneliness and depression.

International Differences in Text Message Use[edit | edit source]

The United States is not the only country that has embraced text messaging as a medium of communication. In fact, the U.S. has been one of the slower countries in adopting text messaging. The heaviest users come from Asian countries such as the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan [41]. The biggest reason for the higher adoption rates is the lower cost of text messaging compared to other forms of communication.

Philippines[edit | edit source]

In the Philippines, which has been dubbed the "text message capital of the world", the cost of text messaging is much cheaper compared to talking over the phone or communicating over the Internet [42]. In fact, mobile phone companies initially offered free texting to attract customers and the prices today remain a small fraction of what it costs to call. In addition, computer and Internet penetration remains low in this developing country. According to the World Bank, only about 5.6 million out of the 90 million people in the Philippines have access to the Internet [43]. For Filipinos, text messaging has replaced phone calls and emails. As a Filipino journalist puts it, text messaging "isn't a craze. It's a way of life."[44]

South Korea and Japan[edit | edit source]

The low costs of text messaging are also present in South Korea and Japan, thus motivating the South Koreans and the Japanese to text instead of call. In addition, both countries have made heavy investments in the mobile phone infrastructure, making cellular phone service faster and more ubiquitous than land lines. Cultural differences have also contributed to the more rapid adoption of text messaging in South Korea and Japan. The population of both countries are technologically savvy. New mobile technologies tend to enter the South Korean and Japanese markets earlier than other countries and they tend to be adopted faster. Both countries have also developed different norms and attachments to the mobile phone. In fact, the Japanese word for mobile phone, "keitai", which literally means "something you carry with you" [45]. Text messaging has become so popular in Japan that textese has crossed the boundaries of short messages into short stories and novels. These stories composed in textese have come to dominate Japan's best seller lists [46].

Text Messaging for Mass Communication[edit | edit source]

Because of its low costs in the Philippines, South Korea, and many other countries, text messaging has also become a medium of mass communication just as email has in the United States. The technology has effectively mobilized the masses for political rallies and events. In the Philippines in 2006, a political protest of over one thousand students in front of the presidential palace was organized purely through text messaging [47]. All major political parties and interest groups have a record of their supporters' phone numbers, which allows them to quickly and effectively mobilize their political base. Text messaging has decentralized political power to the point that anyone with a cellular phone can organize a political rally.

Summary[edit | edit source]

The rise of text messaging has changed how the world communicates. The trend of new communication technologies changing the English language and the dynamics of people's relationships is not a new concept. When evaluating new technologies, it is important to remember how younger generations will use it. At the same time, the technology has evolved to better satisfy the needs of its users. Finally, different countries have adopted text messaging differently due to the different economic, social, and cultural factors in each region.

References[edit | edit source]

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