Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Txt: emoticonography, performativity, Hitler?!

Sunday's NYT Magazine contained a piece about txt msgng by Charles McGrath. There are some interesting things in here, first off the neologism emoticonography, which is a new term to me and has about 240 Google hits. It appears in a MetaFilter post from October here, where the user says they "just made that word up;" it is the title of an article explaining communication on IRC; and way back in 1994, someone used it in an email posted to the American Dialect Society's listserv.

Next, there's the comparison of text messaging language to hip-hop usage:
As with any language, efficiency isn't everything. There's also the issue of style. Among inventive users, and younger ones especially, text-messaging has taken on many of the characteristics of hip-hop, with so much of which it conveniently overlaps - in the substitution of "z" for "s," for example, "a," for "er" and "d" for "th." Like hip-hop, text-messaging is what the scholars call "performative"; it's writing that aspires to the condition of speech. And sometimes when it makes abundant use of emoticons, it strives not for clarity so much as a kind of rebus-like cleverness, in which showing off is part of the point.
There are a couple of things about making this comparison to hip-hop: hip-hop isn't written as much as it's spoken, and when it's written (in liner notes, for instance?) it's written to imitate speech. But there's no constraint on space or time like there is in texting, and it seems that a lot of the stylistic things also have to do with these constraints, like "a" for "er" and "d" for "th," both of which minimize characters. I'm also unclear about this explanation of performativity as writing wanting to be speech; "showing off" being "part of the point" actually seems more on target, though in terms of what it does for you socially, not in terms of just "performing."

I really didn't know emoticons were being used this much, especially in text messaging as opposed to IM, IRC, chat, or BBS. Apparently there's even an emoticon for Hitler: ( /.#( ) I also haven't heard the terms "lateral" and "penetrative" used (the author claims that txtng is the former, according to scholars); is this a communication concept?

Perhaps the most interesting part is the discussion about the suitability of different languages to text messaging:
The Chinese language is particularly well-suited to the telephone keypad, because in Mandarin the names of the numbers are also close to the sounds of certain words; to say "I love you," for example, all you have to do is press 520. (For "drop dead," it's 748.)
I'd like to know more about this; does anyone know of any studies? Surely they're out there.

Finally, the article concludes with a morality tale, stemming from the fact that text messages are used primarily for "greasing the social wheels" functions, a way of reiterating that we have connections, be they electronic or real. He's probably right about that, but then he writes this:
"We're all wired together" is the collective message, and we'll signal again in a couple of minutes, not to say anything, probably, but just to make sure the lines are still working. The most depressing thing about the communications revolution is that when at last we have succeeded in making it possible for anyone to reach anyone else anywhere and at any time, it turns out that we really don't have much we want to say.
This desperation seems to come out of nowhere, especially since earlier in the article he talks about how txt is used to flirt, ask on dates, break up, etc. But even if the whole point is just to grease the wheels, why would we be expected to "say something"? Is it different from Hi howareyou haveaniceday what'sup takecare?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Gender + internet, Text + love

Over a month with no posts! Woe!

Here are a couple of things I've been storing up the past few days.

1. New Pew Internet and American Life study on gender differences in internet use:
How Women and Men Use the Internet: Women are catching up to men in most measures of online life. Men like the internet for the experiences it offers, while women like it for the human connections it promotes.

Pew director Lee Rainie and BoingBoing's Xeni Jardin spoke with NPR's Talk of the Nation yesterday about the report. Another guest, a performer in the play Defending the Caveman, explained the differences with a hunter-gatherer metaphor of internet use. As in, women are gatherers, gathering contacts and communiques, whereas men are hunters, seeking out facts and information. The metaphor seems a bit shaky to me, but whatever. His foundation seems to be:
In principle, internet users have high regard for the internet as a tool of communication; 85% of both men and women say they consider the internet to be a good way to interact or communicate with others in their everyday lives.7 But similarities end there. Men and women differ in their modes of online communication, in what they communicate about, and in how much they value their online communications.

That's a bold claim, there, for some pretty close-to-being-similar differences. For instance, while women are more likely to email than men (94%-W v. 88%-M), men and women are about equally as likely to IM (42%-M v. 39%-W), send greetings (41%-M v. 44%-W), or text message (33%-M v. 37%-W) [none of those latter three differences are statistically significant]. Now this is sort of interesting, given that women are said to seek more highly interactional or "involved" communication, which you'd think would be fostered by IM, not email. So I suppose this is just saying that women are communicating more in general - though men are slightly more likeley to use chat rooms (24%-M v. 20%-W), and more likely to use internet phone (9%-M v. 5%-W), so hmm. There are more detailed findings about the kinds of email and so forth - check it out.

2. Text messaging in the Washington Post

Life and Romance in 160 Characters or Less: Brevity Gains New Meaning as Popularity of Cell Phone Text Messaging Soars

Another article about text messages and their use to flirt, facilitate dates, and (gasp!) break up. Some interesting comments about speed:
The brevity of a text message gives it a certain poetic beauty, said Washington resident Erik Lung, 34. As in enigmatic haiku, there is lots of space for reading between lines, particularly in an early-stage romance.
"You can send a quick little message saying you're thinking of her," the operations research analyst said. Then "you start paying attention not only to what the message says, but you care about the response time." There's a meta-message: The shorter the response time, the more she cares.

And about language:
Now, text messaging -- like its older cousin instant messaging -- is giving rise to a new, electronic written culture that is truncating all of that [reflection, contemplation. - ed.]. A text message sent via mobile phone is usually confined to 160 characters or less and takes several seconds to send. To accommodate this short form, language is acquiring acronyms -- "H8" (hate), "iluvu" (I love you) and "ruok" (are you okay) -- that allow text messages and other instant messages to relay information about life's mundane details as well as its emotional brambles.
Messaging alters language and composition style, said Tom Keeney, director of messaging for T-Mobile USA. Slang has gotten more detailed and sophisticated, making it possible to say more on a tiny canvas, much like poetry, he said. "It's almost like letters gave way to postcards. It was a way to say something on the go."

Nothing too heavy here, but always nice to see normal people interviewed about their thoughts on these technologies.

As *I* (though not necessarily anyone else) would write in a text message: Hap New Yr!

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