Friday, March 04, 2005

A penchant for texting

It's not often I get a chance to say that Northern Ireland (and Britain) appears to be more 'cutting edge' and sophisticated than America in an aspect of contemporary life. By this, I'm referring to what is commonly called 'texting,' that is the sending of messages via a cell phone to one's friends, family and business colleagues in the form of words as opposed to simply phoning them. The vast number of people of all ages texting on London's streets and in rural Ulster astounded me, and I probably need not add that it was preferable to see this ritual played out than to have to listen to people rabbiting on into their cell phones as we do in the US. (I might also append that these observations are made by someone who hates cell phones, who consented to carry one (a 'pay-as-you-go' one at that) on his book tour last summer only to satisfy his publicity agent, Joan, who implored him.)

At any rate, it is clear the mobile phone companies are making a killing. One evening, traveling in the car on our way to dinner, I noticed my niece, Michaela--who's a crazy driver--and her fourteen-year-old brother were texting madly. Filled with curiosity, I asked how much each text costs and what was so important that she needed to text while driving.
"It's only 10 pence a text," my niece said, her fingers freezing momentarily on the keyboard as she said this.
"And what do you text about, exactly?"
"Have a look?" she said, and giggled as she peered in the rearview mirror at her brother, Eugene.
So abbreviated was her script, it was difficult to decipher at first. But I soon got the gist--namely the teenage universal of how gorgeous some chap she fancied was and whether the texted friend thought her target fancied her, blah, blah, blah. One word really stumped me, though. It read 'l8r'
I tried all sorts of combinations but still remained stumped. "Michaela, I don't get it. What does 'C U, one-eight-r' mean?"
Eugene, normally a child sensitive to hurting his uncle's feelings, began to cackle hysterically in the back of the car.
"That's, 'See you later.'" she said, and shot me a look that I interpreted as being, 'Uncle Damian might be a published author but he's bloody old.' She took back her cell phone, shot a perfunctory glance out the front window, decided the car was still on track, and commenced texting again "It's L8r, not l8r."

As I said previously, the cell phone companies are making a killing. Certain I would elicit sympathy from my sister (their mother), I remarked to Deirdre at a party on the eve of our departure that her son and daughter were making a fortune for the mobile phone company. Michaela, pruning her split-ends that evening, shot me a swift, dark look from the depths of an armchair.
"Oh, I know," my sister said as she began to change her baby's diaper. "It's outrageous and I'm forever telling them that. In fact, Eugene has already been told he must pay for his own cell phone bills from now on."
"And they text about such silly stuff," I said.
Michaela guffawed.
"You're talking to the converted," said Deirdre. "It's ridiculous."
Scarcely a minute later, a cell phone rang and five or six hands in the room rummaged furiously for their phones--including, I might add, my father. It turned out to be Deirdre's. After flipping open her phone, she pressed a few buttons with amazing dexterity and began to read, her infant daughter gurgling and kicking out her legs contentedly on her lap. She laughed aloud and then began to text, again with impressive dexterity.
"Must have been important," I said.
"Oh, it was. Anthony [her eldest son who's working currently in Australia and whom she visited a few weeks ago] was texting on his way to work to ask me about a pair of jeans I bought for a bargain at some shop over there. You see, I've mailed them back to him to exchange for me because I got them in black, hated them as soon as I got home and fished them out of my suitcase, and he wanted to know if they've been sent to him yet."

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