Monday, November 3, 2014

The joys of Text

"To Miss Bennett. I am sorry to tell you that I have had to exclude your son permanently from school."

Roger Easerhope, headmaster at Cheam Common Junior School in south London, made headlines when he expelled a 10-year-old pupil with the following words. It was newsworthy because the expulsion was not issued after a face-to-face meeting with the parents. It came in the form of a text message sent by the exasperated headmaster to the child's mother.

I suppose we should be grateful. After all, the headmaster did resist the temptation to send the message: Dont cum bak 2 skool.

A trawl through the newspaper archives uncovers another bemused teacher who could not decipher an essay one of his 13-year-old students had written.

"I could not believe what I was seeing. The page was riddled with hieroglyphics, many of which I simply could not translate," the teacher told the newspaper.

The girl's essay began:

"My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it's a gr8 plc."

Which according to the newspaper translates as: "My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It's a great place."

As you may have guessed by now I am not a fan of text messaging but I am in a minority.

It's not just the incessant rat-te-tat-tat key hammering or the Chinese torture 'meep meep' of the message received that gets my blood boiling. It's the complete destruction of language, grammar, spelling and syntax. I had mistakenly thought this alarming trend was confined to teenagers, until I started to get messages from people who ought to know better.

A friend of mine took me to lunch in a swanky Dublin restaurant recently. He's one of those smart fellows whose decisions help shape the economic direction of our country and no, he deosn't work for the IMF. I sent him a handwritten note to thank him for his generosity. The following morning I received a text message from him on my mobile phone. The message said:

Tnx 1m 4 Msg. TANSTAAFL. Cul8r.

Now I like to think I'm a reasonably intelligent man. I have even been known to run the Irish Times cryptic close on the odd occasion. So I sat down to study his message. After a few seconds I was able to decipher most of it.... the pidgen English 'thanks a million', the cringingly awful 'see you later', but TANSTAAFL? I was completely baffled and made a mental note to ask Lisa, my 11-year-old niece what it meant when I saw her next.

But the unpleasantness of text messaging doesn't end there. The Accident Group said 'Ur sackd, gudby' to 2400 people, many of them by text message and incredibly the former Prime Minister of Swaziland, Sibusiso Dlamini was sacked by text message last September following a political reshuffle by the southern African nation's King. U mst b jkng!

Whatever next? Will villains receive text messages from the local police station saying: U iz nikdski? O plz!

In Ireland over 90% of 15-24 year-olds own a mobile phone. But youngsters today have SUCH a lot to put up with. We just don’t understand the strains they are under.

Research by mobileYouth (or should I say mY) found that some teenagers suffer withdrawal symptoms if their phone doesn't ring leading to "lack of self esteem and anxiety". In some cases it gets so bad that they suffer sleep deprivation and cases of repetitive strain injuries are also common as text addicts lie awake at night glued to their mobile phones. A case of 'my thum hrtz'.

Last night was Lisa's birthday and after handing over my present - earrings chosen by a street savvy friend - I asked for her help to decipher my friend's text mystery. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head like Linda Blair in the Exorcist.

'Loved the bling bling, but get with the programme, Granda,' she said. "TANSTAAFL. There's no such thing as a free lunch."

I need to go back to school.