R U getN it?

    Sitting in a comfy chair at the Chit Chat Cafe, Rae Kimbro smiles as she admits she can send text messages without looking. This soon-to-be graduate of Portland State has been text messaging since she was fifteen, using it primarily to check in with her mother and friends. She likes texting because it allows her to keep in touch with more people than she would otherwise.

    Although the lack of visual and audio cues inherent in texting can lead to confusion, its overall ease, speed and quiet nature continue to make this form of communication popular among the younger generation.

    Many scoff at text messaging, disregard it as merely a trend in youth culture and view it as a system that butchers the English language by promoting incorrect spelling.

    But those who scoff might be interested to know that text messaging employs a variety of writing conventions that have been around as far back as 3700 B.C. Text messaging employs the use of consonantal alphabets, rebus systems, acronyms, pictographs, innovations and abbreviations in spelling.

    The rule is KISS: keep it simple, stupid; and the styles are as varied as the people who use them. Further lending legitimacy to this new style of writing is the 2005 edition of the New Oxford American English Dictionary, which includes popular text message expressions such as LOL (laugh out loud) and BTW (by the way).

    Texting is perhaps at the forefront of communications changes in world culture. Where previous innovations in spoken language drove changes in writing conventions, now changes in writing conventions are influencing spoken language. The acronym ASAP has had a place in spoken English for more than 20 years. Now ASAP is being joined by TMI (too much information) and HAND (have a nice day). Acronyms that emerge in spoken language from youth culture are especially difficult for older generations to decipher.

    Rumor has it that the first text message was sent for commercial purposes in 1992 as a way for telecommunications companies to communicate with their customers. Over time, text messaging has become a way for people to touch base, check in and make plans for going out. It provides an inexpensive means for people to communicate short messages, sometimes while doing other things.

    Text messaging is currently more popular in Asia and Europe than in the United States. On May 26, 2006, the Malaysian newspaper, The Star Online, reported that over one trillion text messages were sent worldwide in 2005. At an average cost of 10 cents per message, text messaging currently has the ability to generate an annual $100 billion in revenue for the telecommunications industry.

    The uses of texting are varied, including gossip, news, jokes, poetry, voting and getting fired. Special television promotions soliciting voting by text on shows such as American Idol and Hell’s Kitchenencourage spurts of texting from American audiences and gushes of revenue for telecommunications companies. Although texting is more popular abroad than in the United States, the U.S. market is seeing rapid growth.

    The anatomy of a text message has a variety of components and often depends on the style of the user. Kimbro said she can tell a person’s age by the way they text. For example, the T9 style of texting, which utilizes predictive text input, is most often used by texters over the age of 19. The freestyle form of texting where one manually enters abbreviated messages is more popular among younger texters and teenagers.

    Text messaging is also changing the way we relate to one another. For example, where 20 years ago a guy would work up his courage to call a girl he liked on the phone, now he is more likely to text her. Texting eases the stress of social interactions by eliminating eye contact and vocal inflection – human interactions that unwittingly show our true feelings. Many are becoming more comfortable with the ambiguity that texting provides.

    As texting continues to influence written and spoken language as well as relationship etiquette, some effort is required to keep on top of these changes. Where once you might have examined a person’s face or looked into her eyes, now you might examine her texting style. Is she a T9 kind of person? Is she a risk taker who uses a wide variety of signs and symbols or merely a 13-year-old? Does it mean she reads Vonnegut when she calls you a "*"? As text messaging continues to grow in popularity, and as those who use it continue to age, what will happen to older generations who do not text and do not gain fluency in texting? Will they be left behind finding themselves suddenly illiterate?

    Older generations, especially those with college-age children, find text messaging to be a convenient way to check in with their kids. Joy Rhodes, assistant professor in PSU’s Graduate School of Social Work, communicates often through text messages with her son and through e-mail with her students. Rhodes admitted that these frequent, speedy communications have led to her more willing disregard of standard spelling conventions. She frequently uses "thru" for through and on occasion abandons capital letters. Insisting that she can still write formally when needed, she enjoys the ease in communication that text messaging provides.

    Although Rhodes finds this new communication system attractive and useful, others bemoan the growing lack of personal "face-to-face" contact. As more people grow accustomed to the new styles and prefer to answer communications at their own convenience, some communicators are feeling shut out and isolated.