When I first became aware of the teenage Instant Messaging phenomenon, my reaction was generally positive. After all, anything that can free up the home phone, allow kids to communicate, and have them develop their typing skills can't be all bad. On our vacation last week, my daughter was able to touch base with several of her friends through IM and find out everyone's classroom assignments, even though we were far from home and away from our postal mail.
Now I am not so sure of the benefits of IM. The trouble is that teentalk (my usage, for a lack of any better label) has evolved into this strange shorthand style that is something like my essay's headline. And that could promote some real bad habits.
Teentalk isn't just with kids IM'ing themselves either. Older folks in Europe who have cell phones with short messaging services (the ability to send 150 or so character emails over the Internet to other phones or email users) are picking up teentalk shorthand too. And we have a web site that even features articles written in the lingo (go to the article 4 the love of music). Go ahead, I dare you to read this thing all the way through. It is a chore regardless about what the artist known as Prince is trying say. Although at least he is writing in Roman characters these days and not some strange hieroglyphics.
The reason for the highly compressed writing should be obvious: when you have a bunch of IM windows up, you gotta type fast and save as much time as you can, otherwise your correspondents will move towards where the action is and leave you incommunicado. Same issue for the SMS cell phone users: if you have a character limit on the messages -- not to mention that you get charged by the number of characters transmitted -- you have to put as much into your message as u can.
Being the kind of person who makes a living off of syntax, grammar, spelling, and word structure, this whole thing kinda scares me. I wonder if I will slip in2 the teentalk style bcuz it saves the time and keystrokes to get these words down. Of course, since I usually get paid by the word, this could b somewhat self-defeating. You can c how annoying this abbreviated style can b. I'll go back to regular English now.
But I am a professional writer. Our teens and others who are communicating with this new language aren't -- and could develop bad habits in the process that could keep them from becoming better writers down the road. I guess I am somewhat sensitive to this, having learned to write at the ripe old age of 24 or so, long after years of expensive schooling had passed me by. (An example: it was news to me that all sentences needed to contain a verb. I am not kidding here. It is almost embarrassing mentioning this, so many years later.)
I don't know what is to be done about this, if anything. I doubt that any of us can change this trend now -- teentalk is too firmly established. Maybe we should have it adopted as the next HTML standard -- that might be one way to kill it off. C u l8r.
My last two columns for SD Times are out, one on considering the customer and the other on worrying about software security issues.
You can read two articles I have written for the Windows2000 Advantage web site, if you don't get the print advertorial supplement in one of your ZD magazines. One is on SQL Server 2000, the other on Biz Talk Server 2000.
An analysis of the blame for increased freshman class enrollment at Northeastern University can be found at ZD Enterprise's site, called Blame it on the IT department.
And I continue to do short product reviews for SearchWin2000.com of useful Windows utilities and services, including PCPitStop. You can find the entire article archives here.
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