U R So Dumb

Can text messaging make us stupid?


It's difficult to imagine Hamlet examining poor Yorick's skull and asking it, "WTF?" But this is where we may be headed, now that the text-messaging culture has infected everything from teenage communications to college schoolwork and workplace interactions. (OMG!)

Here's a primer on popular texting acronyms: 

LOL = I'm laughing out loud

ASL = What's your age, sex, and location?

BRB = I'll be right back.

BTW = By the way…

HO = Hold on…

IMHO = In my humble opinion…

LTR = Long-term relationship

POM = I have a parent over my shoulder

SOZ = Sorry

So says former teacher Jacquie Ream, the author of K.I.S.S.: Keep It Short and Simple, who believes text messaging is destroying the way kids read, think, and write.

"It abbreviates the way you think," she says. The result? "Disorganized sentences without structure" that point to "displaced and disjointed" thoughts.

Such choppy communication is fine for cell phones, she allows, but the problem is that text-message language is finding its way into students' papers. A recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the National Commission on Writing seems to back that up. According to the poll, 64 percent of teens say they incorporate some informal, texting style into their writing at school. About 38 percent say they've used text shortcuts like "LOL" and 25 percent have used emoticons, like smiley-face symbols, in their schoolwork.

Deborah S. Bosley says folks like Ream are a bit "alarmist." As an associate professor of English at UNC-Charlotte, she sees writing samples from local students every day, and rarely does an "IMHO" or a "SOZ" show up in an assignment.

In fact, young people typically don't want to share their texting language with the adult world, she says. It's a code that allows them to shut out adults.

"People always fear new communication mediums will threaten or replace the old," Bosley says. Text-message language won't "erode spelling or capitalization or the way we think about language," she says. "It's up to the teachers to talk openly about what's appropriate."

Bosley also consults with corporations like TIAA-CREF to help employees with their writing, and she's seen very few instances of text-message language in official documents.

"Yes, it happens occasionally," she says. "But they learn very quickly what is and what isn't appropriate."

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