The other night, after my wife finished sending a text message from her Palm Treo, she looked up and said to me, "I text like English is my second language."
I laughed out loud, because I realized that I do, too. For some reason, every text message I send has awkward syntax, dubious spelling and punctuation, and frequently contains clichés that I would rarely utter in real life.
But why? It's not like I'm new to the world of electronic communication. I sent my first e-mail in 1991, and I've been using some form of instant messenger since the late '90s. It's not my only duty here at OnMilwaukee.com, but I write for a living. By now, I should know how to turn out a succinct sentence. It's puzzling, then, that my text messages read like an e-mail pitching a Nigerian pyramid scheme.
Maybe it's the hardware, but as a Blackberry (a.k.a. "Crackberry") user, I've at least got half a keyboard to work with. It's not like I can blame my funky sentence structure on the old-timey "T9" method of spelling. But with two letters to every button on my phone, it still feels unnatural, and with its wacky predictive spelling, I suppose I try to keep my messages simple.
That still doesn't explain why I find myself writing, "Sounds like a plan" and "Where you at?" -- which is a wordy way of saying "OK" in the former example, and just craptastic grammar is the latter.
Perhaps it's just that texting is still not a fully developed form of communication, just like e-mail was 15 years ago.
Fortunately, I've noticed that people have gotten gradually better in their e-mail styles lately. I'm seeing a lot fewer ridiculous acronyms these days, like "TTYL" and "ROTFL." And finally, not every message is fired off in all caps (or no caps), completely devoid of punctuation or a cursory spell-check.
Unfortunately, e-mail -- and now text messaging -- remains as a medium without inflection. That means quick and blunt messages still come off as snotty, even when their intention is not at all abrasive. Unless, of course, they contain the smiley emoticon, which is just plain weird. Maybe it will take a few more years for people to refine their texting manners, too.
After all, when was the last time you found yourself re-reading a hand-written letter, wondering how those words made it on to paper? Then again, when was the last time you wrote a hand-written letter?
For me, it's been a while. But if e-mailing, instant messaging and texting are to fully replace snail mail, we're gonna need to get better. I pledge to be the first to work on it: "Sound like a plan? You betcha, yo. TTYL. "
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.