No July 22 Column...


July 17, 2009

When I was in grade school, I had an old Underwood typewriter that I used to write on.
   It was one of those big, black, heavy clunkers with the keys that you had to strike so hard you got whiplash in your neck if your finger slipped off the “J” key. But I put out a lot of stuff on that old puppy.
   When I was in radio, I used to haul the secretary’s old IBM Selectric to the control room late at night to write behind the control board. It had one of those ball letter heads on it, and a built-in correction tape. I was in high cotton, folks.
   But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to send text messages.
   You know how I feel about phones in general, cell phones in particular. A phone should ring, you should answer it, talk, hang it up. The rest of the time it should sit there quietly, with good manners and good behavior.
   When I was growing up we had one of those big black phones. The kind where the handset weighed more than a bag of sugar. Rotary dial, of course, and though we didn’t have a party line, we didn’t have to dial 923 or 828, either. Dad used to make a sandwich to eat while he dialed his brother in Ft. Worth. It took a while.
   Still, all of this only took a forefinger.
   My cell phone is a clamshell type that Bogie stole off the coffee table and chewed up when he was about four months old. His teeth marks are the most charming thing about it. It has a camera that I have never used, and the only text messages I ever get are from AT&T telling me I forgot to pay them, again. I’ve never sent an email, and it annoys me to no end that, of the 400 ring tones built in to my phone, not one of them sounds like a phone ringing should.
   I don’t give a jolly rip about 3G or “the network” or any such nonsense. It has games in it that I have never looked at. About the only feature I do like is the “silent” mode.
   I have used it to send text messages for a short time after Hurricane Ike, and that was only because I had to, nothing else would go through. I thought my thumbs would be permanently deformed after that. I thought of myself as the Hunchthumb of Charen-Dame.
   But the outside world does sometimes penetrate the veil that surrounds me, gets past the fishing daydreams and wishfulness for ice cream. Now and then something slips through. Lately it’s been text-messaging shorthand.
   Here’s the deal. Some wise urban text messenger has learned that instead of typing “Oh, My God!” they may be able to delay the complete paralysis and loss of motor function in their thumbs by a day or two by simply typing “OMG.”
   So now, taking the Lord’s name in vain is not only acceptable in polite company these days but you can abbreviate heresy as a matter of convenience and to save yourself some Advil years down the road?
   Your response should be: “IDK.” That means, “I don’t know.”
   It was bad enough when I was learning e-mail. Someone sent me something with a sentence and a colon and a parenthesis at the end, like :) . I thought it was a secret code and wasted most of the morning looking for my Johnny Quest decoder ring. Turns out that :) is a smiley face. :( is a frowny face and ;) is a wink. And so on and so forth.
   These evolved over the years in ways that 1950s monster movies couldn’t even conceive, and became “emoticons.” Icons, that express emotion. I left it there and never looked back.
   For instance when I was first on a tribal peoples forum and someone said NDN, I had to sit there and scratch my head for a long, long time before I finally got so frustrated I blurted out, “What the devil does NDN mean?” and, of course, at last I got it.
   Allegedly there are over 1,000 text messaging abbreviations and emoticons. A quick Google search revealed the following from the hundreds and hundreds I found:
   PITA: Pain in the…umh…behind.
   BOSMKL: Bending over smacking my knee laughing.
   UT2L:You take too long. (Apparently someone with arthritic thumbs.)
   IIIO: Intel inside, idiot outside
   OMGTWSF: Oh my God that was so funny.
   IYKWIM: If you know what I mean. (Uhm…no, actually.)
   Some are merely numbers. There’s got to be a pattern here. I mean, people couldn’t honestly memorize all this. But if there is a pattern, I can’t find it:
   831: I love you (8 letters, 3 words, 1 meaning)
   Here’s some confusion in the making:
   ?: I have a question
   ?: I don't understand what you mean
   And did the Three Musketeers have cell phones? 14AA41: One for all, and all for one.
   SOMY: Sick of me yet?
   Well before you get to that point, let me wrap this up.
   Which translates to:
   “In my opinion, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and in real life I’m in over my head. I too use no acronyms, to be honest. Call me!”
   I’m going to give Bogie my phone. He needs a new chew toy.