a week in wireless

Teen text top tips


Imagine the Informer’s surprise upon reading new research that found there’s a difference between how teenage boys and girls use text messaging. According to the Journal of Children and Media, opinion is divided in the US teen community regarding texting best practice.

It seems that boys typically view their phone primarily as a functional item, a tool that might be used, say, to communicate with someone far away. They also view it, to some extent, as a status symbol, but given how suffocatingly obsessed with status all teenagers are, it’s fair to say they view everything as such.

But with girls, the study reveals, there is an additional emotional element. It seems conveying emotions is more important for girls than for boys – who knew? – and their texting behaviour differs accordingly, especially via liberal use of emojis, on which more later.

The fun bit is when the two worlds collide. It seems that boys are prepared to swallow their nascent masculine pride in order to communicate with the girls on their level – i.e. replete with exclamation marks, emojis, hearts, Xs, etc. Of course they have to do this on the sly, as being caught in the act of emoting by their male friends is likely to result in at least severe opprobrium, but more likely punitive beatings.

In summary, boys and girls are different but, especially in their teen years, they’re still working out how. “It is in these texts, the teens are working out their notions of gender and how to interact with people of the opposite gender,” said the authors, collectively.

You can read the full report, entitled “Girls Text Really Weird”: Gender, Texting and Identity Among Teens here, if a pseudo-academic perspective on the horrors of adolescence is of interest. In it, you will discover that social networking is a location for “lightweight social contact” and that the mobile phone is a “central communication channel”.

There are also some great quotes such as this from 18-year old Lydia from Atlanta: “I do know that boys don’t like to text at all… I just think that they are a different species completely.” But Jeri and Cynthia, also from Atlanta, summarised the matter perfectly.

Jeri: “Boys will be like, ‘Okay, cool, see you there.’ Like, they don’t care…”

Cynthia: “Yeah. Like every, they’re always like, ‘Okay, yep.’ I’m like, I don’t really text them.”

Thankfully there is a wealth of resources available online to help the rest of us navigate the opaque world of teen texting. Online tech dictionary webopedia has a handy quick reference guide to popular text/IM abbreviations, although since there are 14,000 of them, exhaustive reference guide might have been a more accurate description.

One of the first things the guide reveals is how ambiguous texting is. For example the question mark symbol can signify both confusion and the desire to ask a question. The sideways heart – <3 – can indicate both love and a broken heart. But the cryptic nature of text speak can also come in handy if you want to disguise your rudeness with acronyms such as STFU, LMFAO and FOAD.

Of course we now no longer have to rely on acronyms and unconvincing combinations of characters on the QWERTY keyboard to convey our emotions when texting. There can surely be no better indication of how humankind has evolved then the emoji – a Japanese invention that is an evolution of traditional emoticons such as the :) smiley face.

Emojis are essentially little pictures that you can use to embellish your text communication with all kinds of extra meaning. They can be symbols, cartoon faces, animals, objects, you name it, there’s apparently no limit to the mini cartoons available to enrich conversation when mere words no longer suffice. In fact, there’s even a standardization subcommittee, catchily named ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2, which only recently wrestled with the thorny problem of the skin tone of emojis.

Emoji++ appSuch is the passion aroused by emojis now that the Informer found himself in a WhatsApp exchange with a supposed friend so vitriolic and gratuitously abusive it can’t be reproduced here. Additionally, such is the rate of their growth that it’s now possible to spend hours agonising over which emoji is the most appropriate, thus somewhat undermining the concept of instant messaging.

Thankfully the developer ecosystem is on the case. For under a dollar iPhone owners can now equip their phones with Emoji++: The Fast Emoji Keyboard for iOS 8, Emoji++, which “is a replacement keyboard designed exclusively around the idea of typing Emoji as quickly as possible.” Result.

Take care.

The Informer

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