4.5.4 Text messaging
Mobile telephone networks have brought us the Short Message Service (SMS), often known as ‘text messaging’ or simply ‘texting’. SMS is now a hugely popular means of communication. In the UK it is largely associated with teenagers, but elsewhere it has been instrumental in political activity. For example, Richard Lloyd Parry (2001) wrote in The Independent about the text messaging epidemic in the Philippines in January 2001, when the technology was used to organise repeated mass protests at a moment’s notice, culminating in the overthrow of the corrupt government of President Estrada. These text messages were predominantly in English.
In the UK the debate about texting usually revolves around supposed falling standards of literacy. This concern stems from a technological limitation, as users are restricted to 160 characters per message. This, combined with the difficulty of using a small keypad and the necessity of repetitively pressing buttons, encourages users to abbreviate each word, or use symbols, as much as they possibly can. We therefore see a return of traditional rebus-like wordplay (CUL8R used for ‘see you later’, for example) as well as single consonants replacing double ones and often the complete omission of vowels (HPY for ‘happy’), and so on. Evidence about the ‘falling standards of literacy’ engendered by the use of SMS is still, at this stage, largely anecdotal.