Thursday, September 25, 2008

A (text) message to my kids

When our two girls were visiting this summer, I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. Both of them had developed the ability to carry on a conversation, totally unrelated to the one I was privy to, under the table. We could be having breakfast, playing cards, or doing anything else that people do when gathered around the dining room table, and it turned out that there was much more actually going on than I appreciated. It’s called texting.

There I was participating in the overt discussion about insert-topic-here and little did I know my two daughters were moderating independent forums involving several of their friends and siblings across the country. This is multi-tasking on steroids.

I’m the first one to tell you that I’ve misjudged how good an idea or invention was and whether it would take off. Back in 1987, I met a guy in Dallas who quit his job as vice president of an electrical products distributor to buy several territory licenses from a newly franchised company.

“So what’s the business?” I inquired.

“Post offices,” he replied.

“Privately owned post offices?”


In my head, I commented: “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.” Out loud I asked: “What’s it called?”

“Mail Boxes, Etc.”

Continuing in my head, I observed: “This guy is an idiot.”

When it comes to telephones, I’ve been on the cutting edge of technology since I was the first one on the block to be talking on the phone in the front yard (without a trailing 50-foot cable). Yes, it did have a six-foot telescoping antenna and the batteries lasted for about ten minutes, but it was the wave of the future.

In my box o’ retired electronics, I’ve got one-line, two-line and four-line wireless telephone/message machines with progressively shorter antennas and higher megahertz ratings, whatever that means. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find my first cell phone, a two-piece contraption that weighs about twenty pounds and, via a series of adapters and alligator clips, plugged into my car’s cigarette lighter.

Of course, I also had the butt-of-many-gags, brick-sized Motorola cell phone I carried around using a belt clip that complemented my pager and pocket protector. Sifting through the box, you’ll find at least ten other cell phones that were, at one time or another, the hippest gadget around. I don’t remember when I bought my first cell phone that could send text messages, but I do remember reading about this feature in the manual and thinking: “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

Why in the world would people send text messages to each other when they’re holding a device that allows them to talk? Especially when you have to type these messages using teeny little keys numbered from two to nine. Isn’t that a giant step backwards on the timeline of technological progress?

Apparently not. Texting has swept through the under-35 crowd like nothing I’ve ever experienced. My daughters can send text messages without even looking at their cell phones. Believe me, that’s not an easy task. I’ve tried it with my eyes open. It takes me five minutes to compose a one sentence message complete with perfect punctuation and grammar. And that’s where the problem lies.

Text messagers (I use that term to show my hipness) don’t follow the rules. Capital letters are as rare as hens’ teeth. If you can abbreviate it (iycai), then do it (tdi). Four score and seven years ago (fsasya), our fathers brought forth on this continent (ofbfotc) a new nation, conceived in Liberty (anncil), and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal (adttptamace).

You can see how this could get quickly out of control. Enter several official text messaging dictionaries that track the commonly used abbreviations. The one I used for the following message to my kids is

Dear Kids:

ianal btw but issygti that tobal against im during dinner


ttfn cyal8r


Dad :)


ianal – I’m not a lawyer
btw – by the way
issygti – I’m so sure you get the idea
tobal – there oughta be a law
im – instant messaging
tyvm – thank you very much
ttfn – ta ta for now
cyal8r – see you all later
xoxoxo – hugs and kisses (hey, that’s one we all know)


  1. Trying to figure out why the under 35 crowd text message on a device where they could as easily make a phone call is as easy to understand as why they have embraced tattoos. I suspect that, like email, it lets them make a statement without having a dialog.

  2. when will they outlaw twd?

  3. For the unhip, twd stands for "texting while driving."


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