Texting on a tiny canvas much like poetry
December 29th, 2005

So goes one line in a front page article in the online Washington Post this morning . Some facts reported: The number of adults telling someone they miss or love them by text message is 60% in in the US and 70% in Germany. Phone subscribers admitting to breaking up using text messaging: 13% of Italians and 12% of Chinese. The theme of the report is ‘soaring’ text messaging as a new sort of communication. Here is some of the flavor:

About 7.3 billion text messages are sent within the United States every month, up from 2.9 billion a month a year ago, according to CTIA, the wireless industry’s trade group. After Hurricane Katrina knocked out or overloaded communications systems, one of the only ways to reach lost relatives and friends was through text messaging, which transmits in sturdy little bursts of data that can often make it through even when voice lines are snarled.

Compared with an ink-and-paper letter, messages may seem disposable. The relative inconvenience of typing out words using a numeric keypad — the letter “c,” for example, requires three presses of the “2” button — and the brevity of the message may seem a hostile environment for heartfelt discussion. But the discipline of having to distill thoughts into short bulletins, then waiting to receive the response, allows users to pour more meaning into the writing, some text-message users say.

“There is something different about communications that are mediated by a piece of technology; it is easier to talk about difficult subjects, and that is both good and bad,” said Amanda Lenhart, senior researcher at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, who has interviewed many teenagers about how they use technology. “You don’t see the person’s upper lip tremble. You don’t hear their voice quiver. You don’t get those external, non-textual cues,” so delicate subjects might be easier to broach, if also sometimes easier to misunderstand, she said.

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