Sk8ing on ej of teenfbia

February 23, 2009

Parents are fretting. This in itself is not news; parents are always fretting. What's interesting is the latest target of teenphobia, which is the common text message.

A University of Michigan professor was quoted in The Washington Post over the weekend, saying that text messaging "is a huge cultural phenomenon with huge down-the-road consequences."

And those consequences are worrisome, the Post writes, in terms of attention span, social life, writing ability and family connections. I suppose the fear is that by the time the next generation rolls around, the entire English vocabulary will have been whittled down to four words, "what's up" and "not much."

Having taught English at Hagerstown Community College, I can vouch for some of this. Believe it or not, there are some students who believe that "LOL" has an acceptable place in a formal paper on climate change.


You could always tell the kids that were text messaging during class. Instead of resting their hands on their paperwork, their arms would form a stiff "V" pointing to an area below the desk.

I didn't try to stop them. I reckoned they were contacting their friends to inform them of the interesting wisdom I was dishing out in class, such as the fact that the hypothetical case always takes a plural verb.

I do worry about future generations of teens, strictly from an evolutionary sense. Two million years from now, human beings are likely to have thumbs the size of cheese logs.

In the Post, one concerned parent -- whose child racked up 6,473 text messages in a month -- feared for a world governed by sentence fragments, abbreviations and emoticons.

She said that "Life's issues are not always settled in sound bites."

Tell that to the Republicans.

And texting interrupts more important stuff. The Michigan professor said, for example, an ill-timed text could spoil a student's comprehension of "Hamlet."

My answer would be to translate Shakespeare into text messaging:

I C gost.

U mad?

SK8NG on ej


TIZ 4NR invad


N Ofelie kuku

U sad?

2B or N2B


GB swt prnz

Shakespeare was always a bit long-winded in my view, so this might be a plus.

Of course it's always something. In my day, teens were always accused of being noncommunicative. Now they're communicating too much. And not everyone sees text messaging as a bad thing. A California professor said texters are "sharing a co-presence (that) can be a very socially affirming thing."

I have no idea what that means, but it sounds plausible. At least teens can use it as an excuse when the 'rents start yelling about excessive cell phone charges.

"But mom, I was only trying to affirm my co-presence."

All this makes me glad they didn't have cell phones when I was a kid. I had trouble enough with my own presence, much less involving anyone else. In the '70s, there was no such thing as technology -- or if there was, it was measured in the number of cubic inches you had under the hood.

In those days, 0 to 60 in five seconds was all the affirmation we needed. Although it would have been fun to hang out the window and say CUL8R.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at

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