An Evolution of Texting, and Why I Can’t “Text My Age”

One of the strangest things about being a recent college grad is realizing that, to the rest of the world, you look like an adult, even though, in reality, your life is in shambles and you have no clue what you’re doing. On being launched out of the academic bubble, one of the things I have struggled with is how I am supposed to text now that I am no longer a college kid but a real live adult.

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I don’t mean physically how do I text. I’m a millennial, even if it isn’t a term I particularly identify with—which ironically is supposed to be typical of most millennials… bit of a Catch-22, huh? I matured side-by-side with the Internet and have had a cell phone since the Sixth Grade. Texting is part of my daily life. But as I have undergone this shift from school to Real Life, I have begun to reflect on the way that I text.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve been told that I text like a “ratchet thirteen year old” for using acronyms or not spelling out full words. Text your age!! Seems to be their silent plea. But it is so second nature for me to drop the “y” and “o” of the word “you” that I even hit my parents with a “love u” at the end of conversations instead of writing out its three letter form. If you know what I mean when I just type a letter, do I really need to spell it out for you?

Text your age!! Seems to be their silent plea.

As it turns out, my texting progression has come full circle as I’ve grown up. At first, using one of the countless Motorola Razrs I inevitably smashed, I would type as tersely as possible. I mean who really had the patience to click those little keys the thousand times it took to fully spell out a word?

Instant Messaging emerged on the computer and abbreviations quickly established a regular place in our lexicon. “Sup?” or even “wyd?” were commonly answered with “sos” “nm” “jc” and then the reply inquiry, “u?” We could speed type on both our computers and our phones, and understood each others’ shorthand perfectly.

Then high school hit. Now I was fourteen I didn’t need to text like the silly child I was in middle school anymore. I still had a navy blue Razr, but I was mature: I exchanged my single letters and acronyms for full words. Though I never had a Blackberry (I begged to be allowed to BBM my friends), I can imagine the advent of the full keyboard definitely influenced the resurgence of fully typed out words.

And finally, the iPhone: with autocorrect and autofill and the ability to type almost as quickly as you thought. But there’s the key part: almost as quickly as you thought, but not quite. The regression to letters was inevitable. Your phone would learn your frequently used abbreviations (it would also pick up your drunk typos and random capitalizations…) so using them became unconscious. By now, most people of our generation were typing pretty much in the same way, so shorthand was not only accepted, but it became a sort of norm.

It was not until this year that I experienced any sort of backlash for the way I text. My friends said that I typed in my own language, using “abt” instead of about, “esp” instead of especially, “tomo” instead of tomorrow, and, the classic, “u” instead of you. But otherwise I spelled most things out, my texting style hadn’t really changed much in four years, and people still knew what I meant, so what was the problem?’

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As graduation neared I lay in bed one night seriously contemplating the way that I text. Would that fly in the real world? I definitely wouldn’t type the way I usually do to employers, or even people that I was texting for the first time. My friends were already teasing me for my “ghetto” texting. Were my days of shorthand typing and abbreviations nearing an end?

The answer so far has been no. I definitely do type out full words more often than I used to, but some shorthand has stuck with me—and I know I am not the only one guilty of this!

We live in an increasingly digital age, and texting by some has come to be thought of as its own dialect within the English language. The way we text is considered more akin to the way we think or speak than the way we would write a paper or a letter. Just because I use my little shorthands doesn’t mean that I struggle with the English language—I literally was an English major. Maybe I am just a really lazy texter. Maybe it shows that I think faster than my fingers can move. Or maybe, just maybe, on some subconscious level it means that the “ratchet thirteen year old” inside of me isn’t ready to grow up.

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