You can’t spell “text message” without “mess”

“I sort of explain life to myself assuming everyone is drunk.”

– Peggy Noonan

Many years ago, during what seems like the dawn of time, I had to attend a corporate training session on a new form of communication.

It was called “texting,” and several of us, considered so vital that we could be sent to impromptu training sessions without crippling the daily workflow, soon found ourselves in a conference room listening a self-proclaimed futurist describing our future by typing messages on our cell phones.

“If we have them on the phone, why not just talk to them? asked a younger version of me.

The expert shook his head and replied, “No, there’s so much you can do with texts.”

He was right, of course. Most of the time you can get in trouble.

Maybe he would have warned us too, but — and I’m not making this up — our meeting was suddenly interrupted by a fire drill, and the futurist couldn’t stay long enough for us to be re- to be picked up in the company car park.

So he left.

And we found ourselves figuring it out for ourselves.

I understood a lot.

For example, texting is a great way to stay awake during staff meetings, except you have to do it carefully, like reading love notes in eighth grade.

It also allows you to be quietly informed of the news during religious services on Sunday morning.

Several times, I was informed by impatient journalists who wanted to know how to do it.

“They found a car in the river” could read a text.

“Anyone in it” I could answer.


“ok I’ll call you later.”

Did you see what I did there? I used ‘u’ instead of typing ‘you’. That’s smart, huh?

It’s one of the many facets of texting that they don’t teach – spelling. It’s like reading a rebus.

It took some time but I gradually understood that BTW (By The Way), DIY (Do It Yourself) and FAQ (Fool Around Quietly) join common communication.

Same goes for LOL (Laugh Out Loud), which I think should be considered sarcasm as I notice it never seems to be used in such funny posts.

Then there are emojis – those variations of the traditional “smiley face” with all sorts of other symbols.

Now might be a good time to suggest that you meet with a young person you trust to explain the meaning of some of the other symbols. (For example, it’s not a drop of Hershey’s Kiss candy.)

Some things have to be learned by yourself. Like “thumb tapping”.

I had to take eight months of professional typing in 11th grade to master a typewriter keyboard. It also helped, because until the 1980s applicants for newsroom jobs had to pass a timed typing test.

Text input – which relies on the thumbs – is the reverse of keyboard input – where the fingers do the walking and the thumbs just handle the space bar.

Can you practice this skill? Can you speed up your thumb grip?

Beat me. But it could be useful. This is because when you text back and forth, sometimes it takes too long.

Then the person you’re “ping-ponging” with… sends a second message, just before you send your reply to the first, but it looks like you’re replying to the second.

And that might be the wrong thing to say.

That’s the explanation I got last weekend at a family reunion when I was told that someone’s absence implied a bad response to a second interrupted text.

I didn’t know what to answer to that.

There never seems to be futuristic where you need it.

(Bill Kirby reported, photographed and commented on life in Augusta and Georgia for 45 years.)

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