Telegraph a friend

Published 3:24 am Thursday, February 12, 2009

By Staff
There are many things in this 21st century I just don’t understand, but one of the main one is this: What is the appeal of texting messages via a cell phone?
My wife, who is younger than I am (but not that much younger), recently decided she really needed to be able to text. Her sister and brother would send her text messages, not knowing that our phone package included no texting, so every such message cost us 10 cents or whatever the charge was. She learned to text and even sent a few messages, no matter how many times I reminded her that “it costs money to do that!” Embarrassed that I really am sounding more and more like my late father, I let her text away.
This is where the things I don’t understand come in. You’re sitting there with a telephone in your hand, which is really a computer with power that shames the old Univacs that took up an entire floor of the physics building on campus and is capable of calculating the lunar orbit down to three centimeters, and instead of making a phone call, you decide to send a telegram. That’s what it boils down to — texters prefer 19th century technology (a telegram) to 20th century technology (a telephone). If you’re old enough to remember telegrams or watch a lot of old movies, you know that telegrams had a special vernacular. A telegram might say, “Got arrested. Stop. Send money for bail. Stop. Love Tony.” Texting also has its own vernacular. A text message might say, “Tony n jail. LOL. R U sad?”
Telegrams used to bear bad news, news that couldn’t wait for the two or three days for delivery of a postal letter, back when few people had telephones. Texts appear to be far less serious, often containing nothing more than that most common of all cell phone questions, “Where you at?”
Now, I’ve been told that the advantage of texting is that you can send and receive a text message in situations when you can’t make a phone call. Like when you’re sitting in a boring economics class or you’re driving down I-95 at 70 mph. A public-spirited N.C. legislator is proposing a law to make it illegal to text while driving. The fact that such a law is needed testifies to how ubiquitous texting has become. The next time you see a young person deep in thought, look again. Chances are he’s exercising his thumbs in some rapid-fire texting.
Despite my lack of understanding, texting drove my wife to get a new cell phone. She wanted one with a texting-friendly qwerty keyboard that you could type on with your newborn baby-size fingers. Admittedly, our phones, obtained in a family package some five years ago, were not texting-friendly with their 10-number keypads. They also didn’t take pictures, play music, display photos, give directions or research term papers, as some of the newer phones do. My phone was an antique, in a digital age sort of way, meaning it was not the latest, shiniest, fastest most awesome thing on the market. I would have been perfectly happy to keep it until the battery quit charging (which is how I managed to get the phone I’ve got). But my wife wanted more. She wanted to be able to text. She needed that function to communicate with her co-workers, who apparently are a bunch of carpal-tunneled texting fiends. So she got a company phone, one with a qwerty keyboard for better texting. She’s happy.
Because her old phone was married to my old phone, sort of like the two of us are married and have been for a long time, especially in digital years, for which every three years is a lifetime, I had to do something about her old phone, and that meant I had to do something about my old phone. I had to divorce her old phone from my old phone, the two of which were in a family plan, and before I got through the ordeal, I was afraid I might have to call in a family law practitioner. But after numerous calls to the Wireless Provider, the separation agreement finally went through, and her phone with the old familiar number, which was one of the last things I memorized in this lifetime, disappeared into cyberspace or wherever it is old phone contracts and old phone numbers go. And with a new two-year contract, during which time I cannot do any of the thousands of things I agreed not to do when I signed my name, I got a new phone. It’s shinier and swifter-looking than my old phone, but it still does the same things my old phone did, which was make and receive calls. And it also takes pictures, although we have two digital cameras and several old film cameras that do that, but you never know when you’ll need to take a picture while you’re holding your phone. It does not text. It does not surf the Internet. It does not give directions or search for the nearest pizza place. And it does not play music.
But I still don’t understand what’s so great about texting. Twice on a recent road trip, my wife got text messages on her new phone. She had to text back a reply. It took a few minutes to scrunch down her fingers to fit that newborn-size keyboard. “Why not just call?” I asked, and she gave me that “you just don’t understand anything” look and kept on scrunching her fingers onto that keyboard.
I was tempted to suggest that we just pull over at the next Western Union and send a telegram, but I thought better of it.