Textual difficulties

  • by , September 5, 2007

A business executive is more hip than I.

While boarding a plane following vacation, I can't help but notice the older man in suit and tie typing away on his Palm Treo phone. It's one of those phones with a small QWERTY keyboard on the bottom, the type that requires the peck of a finger or thumbs the size of Paris Hilton's waist.

The Treo is my phone, too. I'm struggling to adapt to a new entry style after switching in early August from a standard clamshell phone.

Yeah, I know - woe is me. But when you rely on an entry method for so long, changing your behavior is a pain. Imagine text messaging on a standard phone using all 12 keys and not nine - struggles would ensue.

My mother now text messages me; so do some professionals I know. My mother is astounded by the speed of my typing - new phone or not. She can send one message in the time it takes me to do five.

Disturbing? Slightly. Technology has made communication easier throughout history, but with each advance comes a learning curve.

Recall the process of learning to type. I became easily frustrated playing silly typing games and spending countless hours using "Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing."

Most of us took keyboarding in the early years of our secondary education. I remember my knuckles hitting the inside of a cardboard box, which served as the Berlin Wall between my eyes and the keyboard of a Power Macintosh. Torture awaited the misfit who removed that box in the classroom.

Mavis Beacon continues haunting my dreams, scolding me for missed keystrokes like an angry schoolmarm. I never mastered the class; I just went for what worked.

As middle school arrived I began using a now-obsolete AOL client to chat with friends. Suffice to say, the technology has changed quite a bit; my typing style, however, has not.

Yes, despite my professional claim as a writer, I fail to rely on any resemblance of the "home keys" method of typing. By spending my formative years sending e-mail and instant messaging, I managed to master "DaveType," a proprietary form of keyboarding that is undoubtedly less efficient, but a habit harder than hell to break.

Fast forward 10 years. My fingers still hang out in odd locations around the keyboard. My right hand pays more attention to the mouse than the keyboard.

Meanwhile, the AOL Member Profile is replaced by MySpace with today's 13- to 18-year-old crowd. There's your extracurricular keyboarding practice. The computing experience I had when I was 14 is met or exceeded by kids half that age today.

Eighth grade students no longer drool over their parents' cell phones, but rather compete to one-up their peers' model. And this brings me to the cell phone as a textual communication tool.

Last summer a friend commented - via text message - on the dismay she felt after avoiding a specific, more appropriate word because it was not easily typed into the phone. Clearly the input method changes our communication patterns.

"Texting" is far from a minor hobby in 2007. Verizon Wireless customers broke industry and company records in June by sending and receiving more than 10 billion text messages during the month, a company press released said.

That's a lot of "OMG" and "Not much, u?"

In order to stay up with these highly detailed conversations, adults and Generation Xers peck away at the keys of their mobile devices, while college and high school students blaze through their inboxes like a court clerk on speed. This craft of "texting" is not taught in school - hell, most forbid it - but it's obviously becoming a reliable means of communication for Americans like, idk, my bff, Jill.

My thumb-work improved in the week since my Treo purchase. Surely I'll master the word entry as each message comes and goes. Meanwhile, the 43-year-old (-ish) business executive in first class is spanking me in speed … on his laptop.

Maybe I should learn to type normal first.

Originally published in The Ball State Daily News on 8/16/07.

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