Texting — LOL at Formal Writing

by Katelyn Fernandez

Illuminated Transcript

You’re listening to inQuery! The podcast show run by the Professional Writing students here at York University. We’re talking about the technology today while creating the ideas of tomorrow.

Source: Hailey Sarsam

Source: Hailey Sarsam

I remember sitting next to my 13-year-old sister while watching some Filipino show and I saw that my sister's eyes were glued onto her phone. So, I did what any older sister would do. I peeked. That is the type of person most people often are. We're naturally curious, always craving answers to our constant questions. I wasn't surprised or anything, but it turned out she was texting one of her friends about some boy. Okay, very typical for a girl her age. I just couldn't believe how bad the text message was. It wasn't even about what she was discussing. Her grammar was so awful, it made me cringe. There were too many LOLs and a ton of misspelled words. It was like reading some other language.

And so, the question came to me. Is this how all teenagers really text nowadays? In her 2005 book K.I.S.S: Keep It Short and Simple, Jacquie Ream said text messaging was destroying the written word. The question, however, is why? Why is texting making this impact on the way we, teenagers, write for school?

I'm Katelyn Fernandez, and today in inQuery, I will be talking about texting and how it affects our grammar and punctuation in formal writing. Just so you know, there is a transcript of this episode below for your reading benefit and links that lead you to a couple of my blog posts. Don't exactly know what I mean by formal writing? Click the link here.

Texting. You all probably hear about it and see it happen too much. Everywhere you go there is at least one person typing away on their phone. On the bus ride to school . . . in public washrooms . . . in class . . . The list can go on forever. Texting is defined as the  act of sending a message from one mobile phone to another through the use of Short Messaging Service, also known as SMS, which limits the amount of characters of a text to 160. It's funny, actually, the history of texting is quite adorable, but I won't be going deep into that because of the time. If you'd like to learn more about it, though, you can click this link here.

Speaking of time, texting has become such a quick and easy way for people to get in touch with one another. In 2008, the Pew Research Center released a project done by Amanda Lenhart, Sousan Arafeh and Aaron Smith. They found that almost 50% of teenagers said this is true.

Dave Greenfield, the founder of The Center For Internet Behavior, explained addiction in a CBS News interview as using something so much to the point it interferes with our lives in a major way — things like school. Then, why is this so-called addiction popular with teenagers? And, I'm talking about texting.

One of the reasons why, according to the Center for Innovative Public Health Research, is how texting is a way for teens to "keep private conversations private within public spaces" which, now to think of it, relates to my post on crisis text lines. Just click the three words on the transcript. 

Katelyn: Why do you text?

Hailey: Calling takes effort.

Leanne: It's less pressure than a phone call, like someone gets back to you and you see their answer and you don't have to respond right away. You can pretend you're using the washroom or something or maybe your phone battery died. Then, you get back to them on your own time.

Another reason could be how smartphones have been one of the hottest trends amongst teenagers.

Nicole: I think I text because all my other friends text.

Sheryl Connelly, the global and consumer trends manager of Ford, said in an interview with Nick Bilton of the New York Times that the car used to be a symbol of freedom for teenagers. Now, it's the smartphone. She says that teens rather take the bus or wait to be picked up because they would then have more time to fiddle with their phones. As sad as it sounds, this happens to be very accurate.

Simran: I feel like texting or gadgets has a big effect on formal writing.

That was Simran, a first year kinesiology student at York University.

Simran: When professors give you their e-mails — they will specifically say, "Don't use slang" or "texting language." They will emphasize that, which tells you there has been an increase on kids slacking on how they write formally. That was never an issue before.

The difference between then and now, though, is that we have become so technologically dependent in everything we do: education, researching, communicating . . . You name it. Like our phones, we rely on all sorts of gadgets to help us learn about new information. Now, we can submit essays online. There are even such thing as online classes. The evolution of technology has been beneficial, but at the same time, it isn't.

An infographic from Onlineschools.com said young adults were the reason for the popularity of this "textspeak". It said 95% of teenagers owned a cell phone in 2012. Click this link to see the infographic I found: http://www.onlineschools.com/in-focus/text-talk/.

Katelyn: Can I see something?

Kylie: See what?

Katelyn: The journal entry thing you have to do for school.

Kylie: Okay. Go get it.

Each week, my sister has to write a journal entry about a given topic. It had to give me some sort of answer. And, to my luck, there was.

Katelyn: Why is there so many exclamation points here?

Kylie: I don't know.

Katelyn: This is good, but… wait. Did you actually put a smiley face here?

Kylie: So?

Katelyn: Wow.

Yes, you heard that right. My very own sister put what seemed like an emoji at the end of her entry. For you smartphone users, those are the smiley faces we use in our text messages. I didn't catch it, but she also added a bunch of exclamation points at the end of one of her sentences, which made my eye twitch by the way. Jacquie Ream, the author of the Kiss book I mentioned earlier, said the emotions teenagers convey in their text messages are sideways smiley faces. That is why, to her, they are incomplete thoughts. 

But all I was thinking, in that moment with my sister, was that there is a connection with texting and the way we formally write. There has to be, and it might actually be a negative one.

Most teenagers won't admit the fact that this might be true. So, I asked three friends of mine who also happen to be first year York University students.

Katelyn: Do you think texting impacts your writing?

Hailey: No.

Nicole: No.

Leanne: What was the question again?

In fact, after giving a questionnaire to 10 students at York, I found that 60% of these students believed texting does not have an effect on their writing. And, get this . . . When they were asked to rewrite a grammatically incorrect text message — abbreviations and all — only 20% of them got both the grammar and punctuation right. That makes two students . . . only.

So, what exactly happened to the 80%? Well, these students made errors in basic punctuation, such as not placing a period at the end of the sentence; something I noticed most students also tend to do this when texting.

If I could bet a dollar for how many times my friends would say "text me" after saying goodbye, I'd probably be a millionaire by now. That is how often teenagers text. Because we text so much, we write so much. Well, technically.

I don't know about all cellphones, but there is this feature called autocorrect. It's pretty self-explanatory. As you text, it automatically changes wrong words or even inserts words similar in spelling. Most of the time, people don't even notice these corrections until after they send the message. Just the other day actually my friend told me to stay in front of the "collaborators" at the library, which made zero sense. I was like, what collaborator? But then, he texted me quickly, saying "collaboratory." Oh, autocorrect. You need to get ahead of the game.

Julia Cooper of Furman University compares the whole autocorrect scenario to those red squiggly lines you see when you're working with Microsoft Word. Their purpose is to let us know when we spell a word wrong. Although it has a similar idea in helping us perfect our mistakes, quote "it makes us fail to notice our errors and thus we will continue to misspell the same words over and over again" end quote. Basically, it simply helps make your paper look nice. That's it. Autocorrect and spellcheck and whatever program you use to help correct your spelling do not help with the content of your writing.

You're probably thinking autocorrect isn't the main reason why teens lack strong formal writing skills, and you are very right. It isn't. How about those who don't use the autocorrect on their phones? Like me, for example. The answer to this? Routine.

Katelyn: What's the first thing you do in the morning?

Leanne: Touch my toes . . . I stretch . . . that's the first thing I do.

A couple of weeks ago, I subscribed to this beauty vlogger on Youtube, and I remember watching her morning routine video she posted awhile back. Thirty seven seconds into the video, the first thing she did was pick up her phone and check to see if she had any messages. She wasn't the only one who happened to do this. If you search "morning routine" in Youtube, you'll watch a bunch of videos that start the same way. It's hilarious.

To see the infographic, click the link I've left for you here

On another infographic by Onlineschools.com, it said teenagers receive and send 3417 texts a month. So, it makes sense that texting becomes a part of a teenager's daily routine. When something becomes a part of your routine, you don't really notice it because that is how natural it is. It becomes habitual, and what noun derives from this adjective? Habit.

To me, routines and habits go hand in hand. The routine of texting is like one of those habits you're trying hard to break away from. It becomes difficult to give it up because you've grown so used to it.

On the topic of routine here, Angela Risto of Tennessee State University said in her dissertation that the language teenagers are exposed to everyday is the language they see through technology: textspeak. Because of this, teens observe all the bits and pieces they read through electronic communication. The writing style, which consists of lack of punctuation and abbreviations and emojis, becomes a part of our memory and a part of our writing. We adapt to this routine.

So if we don't realize our lack of punctuation and improper grammar in our text messages, of course these mistakes slip into our writing. That is how habits work. They are a constant part of our routine and sometimes, we can't even help it.

For Dr. Neil Randall from the University of Waterloo, this kind of communication combines key elements of both the written and spoken language, saying quote "it is learning how to speak with your fingers" end quote. He makes an interesting point. In his work back in 2002, he also included how the way we text resembles how we speak to others. To him, that is why punctuation and grammar — and I quote — gets lost and forgotten. The thing is teenagers today don't speak in formal language on a daily basis and if we do, it's usually for school purposes. Same goes for formal writing. The most formal writing teenagers do is writing for an essay, or sending an e-mail to a teacher or potential employer for a part-time job.

But, I also found that texting doesn't always have an effect on formal writing for everyone. Leanne, a first year Theatre student at York University even said so.

Leanne: I think I use two different parts of my brain for those activities.

That said, some teenagers are, in a way, superheroes. Like Batman, we have two different sides: one for texting and one for formal writing. We switch back and forth in times of need, processing information and communicating with the style fit for the genre. Texting may not negatively affect all teenagers and their writing after all.

Julia Cooper concluded in her work that we should not rely on notifications and widgets to quote "determine the future of our writing abilities" end quote. I agree one hundred percent.

With the shortcuts and emojis and freedom to write whatever, texting may be an easier and more popular form of communication, but do not let it be your only form of written communication. We shouldn't let the informal language we use in our texts become the same language we use for essays. Trust me. It's not a nice feeling to see a bunch of red marks on an assignment you get back from your teacher.

That is why we should also try to limit ourselves with this ICT. I know it sounds impossible, but it could really help us improve in the way we write for school and even for future jobs. Use two different mindsets when writing and texting. Know the difference. They are not one and the same. Now that I got that out of the way, I'm going to tell my sister the same thing.

Thank you for listening to me today on inQuery. I'm Katelyn Fernandez, and I hope you and your families have a very merry Christmas. 

Works Cited

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Greenfield, Dave. "Addicted to Texting." Interview by Harry Smith. CBS News. CBS News, 2012. Web. 18 November 2015.

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