The Trance of Texting Teens

By Lauren Ashburn , written on March 21, 2012

From The News Desk

Whether we like it or not, texting is here to stay.  Gr8, rite?

Teens, it seems, continue to gravitate to the medium like pigs to mud, tapping out 60 texts a day, up from 50 in 2009. “Texting is now the dominant daily mode of communication,” says a new Pew Research Center survey.

Sixty texts a day? What could kids possibly be writing that has any nutritional value, beyond coordinating outfits and times to meet? It gets worse. The more they text, the more they talk on the phone. Are we raising a generation that doesn’t know how to be alone? Not to mention one that can’t spell or craft a proper sentence?

As a writer whose Bible is, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves – The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” by Lynne Truss, I find mangling morphemes hard to stomach. One of the worries that looms large in my life is that my 12 year-old will never learn how to spell correctly, thanks to these twisted renditions of the written word.

A few years ago Discover magazine reported a British grad student had earned the first PhD in texting--the philosophy of texting, to be precise. My initial reaction was: What is the world coming to? Do we really need to know how and why people text? Isn’t it all bad grammar and abbreviations like LOL or BRB? But maybe she was onto something.

Caroline Tagg studied 11,000 texts from 235 people over four years. She found the average text is 17.5 words and texters write things like “dunno” and “oh.” Tagg supplied a sample text from her research which indicates that we may not want to turn out a slew of text-studying PhD's: “Hi. I know you are at work but I just wanted to let you know I found my pen lid.” Dickens they are not.

Yet Tagg claims that texting is anything but soporific.She told the Telegraph: “People use playful manipulation and metaphors. It is a playful language. Not only are they quite creative, it is also quite expressive.”

Maybe in our quest to dismiss less-than-perfect correspondence, we are missing the big picture. Could it be that texting is the warm-up act to thoughtful writing, just like doodling can spawn serious drawing? And what does all of this texting togetherness reveal about the need for kids to communicate?

Teens are tough nuts to crack. Maybe we shouldn’t knock what clearly gives them pleasure and instead study their behavior, earning our own PhD into what makes our kids tick.


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