November 4, 2006

Don’t LOL, but Texting Turns Me Off

By Ana Veciana-Suarez, The Miami Herald

Nov. 4--I've never been fast enough on the trigger, and in the world of modern-day communications, where Instant and Immediate are the new buzzwords, that lack of speed is, like, so last millennium.

It's taken me a few years to get up to snuff with "killer apps." Not because I'm a Luddite, but because I cherish my alone space and find its boundaries constantly threatened. Nonetheless, I've dragged myself into the virtual world of faceless contact and 24-7 availability -- whining all the way.

True, some stuff I find useful. E-mail, for instance. How did I ever live without it? Now I zap spam, monitor messages on my wireless and organize my in box in a way no one could have predicted five years ago.

Then again, the very mention of e-mail just goes to show how old -- and outdated -- I am. My teenage children, those with nimble thumbs and the attention span of a swarming gnat, think e-mail dates to the Stone Age. (Isn't that how Fred Flintstone communicated with Barney? Ha, ha. Or, is that LOL?)

That's because my kids are into text messaging. Me, I can't even see the letters without my reading glasses. So unfair.

Yet that's the reality. The 15-year-old no more gets into the car than he begins pawing away at his cell phone. Anything worth saying has been abbreviated into one-letter words.

The worst part? I can't even eavesdrop on his conversations.

Don't waste your pity on me, though. Last week I felt slightly better about that expiration date stamped on my forehead after my 25-year-old confessed that he sometimes is forced to call one of the younger brothers to help him figure out tech stuff. This may be the first time in history when the oldsters -- read: anybody out of high school -- are taking their cue from those in braces.

A recent report confirms that yes, indeed, no matter how fast we learn we're still behind the times. That e-mail account I'm so fond of? Going the way of the postage stamp, at least among teenagers.

According to comScore Media Metrix, teen e-mail use has been dropping in the past year even though the average time they spent online actually increased. In April, it was down 8 percent from the same month last year. In the meantime, the rest of us slowpokes continue to use e-mail faithfully and fervently, but if the past predicts the future, it won't be for long.

E-mail has lost its luster because it's slo-o-oo-ow. Teens are abandoning it for the faster, briefer text messaging and instant messaging, though even the latter is losing ground to MySpace. (If you don't know what MySpace is, or have never been on the site, rush yourself to Tech E.R.)

E-mail, it turns out, is also too complicated, too formal, too uncertain. In comparison, texting -- it's a verb, by the way -- pops up on your phone screen immediately and with a few, quick strokes, voila! you can reply with your own message. What's more, texting makes you instantly and irreversibly accessible.

Which is fine, if you don't need time to collect your thoughts or sort your feelings or compose a sweet turn of phrase. In fact, this kind of instant communication is perfect for those who don't suffer from foot-in-mouth disease or for those who can think on their feet, or should I say, on their thumbs.

For the rest of us, for those who savor their own company and think solitude is an endangered species, the tsunami of instant communication can only mean one thing: quantity, not quality.

I'm beginning to think the off button is the best invention since churros and hot chocolate.




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