Monday, December 3, 2012

Texts, Lies and Videotape


There, I’ve done it. I know I’m “20 yrs 2 L8”, but, as today is the birthday of texting, I thought I should at least celebrate (or, to be less precise, celbr8) its existence; particularly as I have largely ignored the wretched practice for its entire, annoying lifetime. So: hpy bday 2 txting.

It was on the 3rd of December 1992 that a British geek called Neil Papworth sent the first ever text message to colleagues at the Vodaphone Christmas party.  I wonder why Vodaphone were celebrating Christmas so early in the month? Perhaps the caterers were offering a cheap all-the-data-you-can-eat Earlybird deal? 

Papworth was a software developer from Reading, and that’s presumably why in his first momentous text he could think of nothing more imaginative to write than “Merry Christmas”. He’d have been laughed out loud (LOL) today: apparently he should have written “mry xmes”. Ye Gods, what did that man start? 

Mind you, other pioneers of communication were scarcely more inventive with their inaugural phrases. Alexander Graham Bell’s first sentence over his brand new telephone was to his assistant, Thomas Watson, standing a few feet away in the next room: “Mr Watson: come here, I want to see you”. 

Nowadays he’d have sent an email. Perhaps a more appropriate first line would have been the quote used by Samuel Morse to first demonstrate his telegraph system: “What hath God wrought?” 

We, (that is, we the British public, not me the dinosaur) now send 150 billion texts a year: that’s 50 a week for every person in the land. Filipinos send nearly 4 times that number, apparently. My 14-year-old would feel quite at home in the Philippines. But at last in Britain the number is beginning to fall as smartphones offer alternative forms of bite-sized communication, like Twitter. I do send the odd tweet (@standingstoned), but apparently I’m not terribly good at OLN (OnLine Netiquette). 

It’s no wonder I managed to live right through the text gener8shun without learning how to text a single sentence properly. Txting RIP can’t come a moment too soon for me. To be frank, I have always been a sufferer of acronym-blindness. Like David Cameron, for ages I too thought that LOL meant “lots of love” and couldn’t understand why complete strangers were coming on to me. But, laugh out loud, the joke’s finally on those of us who have ignored texting all this time, for, as its popularity starts to fade, a whole generation of children will realise they are fluent in a dead language, like I am in Latin. Soon only ten year olds with their parents’ hand-me-down blackberries will be texting each other. And people in the Philippines. Texting will soon be as useful as owning a Betamax.

Still, right now we ignore it at our peril, for texting is now the second most common use for a mobile phone – the first being to check the time. Personally I use a watch. The ubiquitous text has caused road accidents, political scandal and divorce. Tiger Woods, Shane Warne and Tess Daly’s hubby Vernon Kay are among several to have been caught out by “sexting” over the years. 

Even my wife and I have our own private sexting language. It goes like this: 

“QIIB?” (Shall we watch Q.I. in bed?) 
“NWIGAH” (No Way, I’ve Got A Headache). 

The US government spends millions on campaigns to stop teenagers texting while driving, with special “anti-text” patrols placed on motorway bridges to spot offenders. They should have them in restaurants too: I firmly believe that children should be banned from texting over dinner. The experts say texting increases a child’s writing skills. To which I say: 4COL, IMHO, SSEWBA (For crying out loud, in my humble opinion, someday soon everything will be acronyms). 

Still, texting has certainly made the executives at Vodaphone pretty cheerful over the past 20 years. As they will doubtless be saying to each other at this year’s Christmas party: 

Hppy xmes 2 evry 1 an hppy txting 4 the nxt 20yrs :-).

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