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MARK PATINKIN How old is too old for text messaging?



Published: Sat, June 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



You know how many people in their 70s and 80s have been left out of Cell Phone Nation, because it's just too much a leap to learn a new technology?

I'm in danger of being sidelined in a similar way.

I don't text.

Well, I do, but I'm really bad at it.

Texting, apparently, is the latest thing.

First came cell phones, then e-mail, then instant messaging on computer, and now texting. At least I think it went in that order.

Texting is the sending of "typed" messages from cell phone screen to cell phone screen.

If you're young, texting is the new form of conversation.

If you are really old, like, oh, I don't know -- 52 -- you don't have a clue. I am 52.

Women's magazines insist that 50 is the new 40. I'm convinced that in technology years, 50 is the new 80.

To me, texting is the symbol of it. It's hard for an old dog like me to keep up.

My daughter, 17, now has a cell phone, of course. I say "of course" because in the America of 2005, I feared I'd be charged with neglect if I didn't get her one.

I asked her how often she sends text messages to friends.

Gosh. Constantly.

I'll say. I added a "text package" to her cell phone plan that allows her to send 1,000 messages a month. I checked and saw she's in danger of going over it. That breaks down to 30-plus texts a day.

When I was 17, I maybe got two or three phone calls on a good day. I can't imagine why people that age need to be in touch with each other so often.

So I asked my daughter.

Apparently, if you're a teenage girl, all major news now has to be reported instantly to your friends by text.

Such as: "Oh my God, NARS just opened up their makeup counter at Nordstrom -- my life is complete."

Or girls will just check in with, "Where are you?" Or: "Any gossip?"

Quick fingers

What amazes me is the way kids can fire off these messages in seconds. I don't begin to know how.

See, to text, you have to spell words by punching phone keys with the right letters. It's arduous. There are 10 numbered keys for 26 letters. It takes me forever to punch out a message like, oh, for example, "Hi." I squint lamely at the keys as I labor along.

Teenagers, on the other hand, can punch out lightning-fast sentences without even looking. There are rumors some do it beneath their desks in class. Remember when kids passed notes instead?

My brother Matthew, 47, is a businessman who loves cell phones. He has always been ahead of the technology curve. But when I asked if he texts, he said no.

Why?

"Because, I don't need to," he said "I have a home phone and fax, an office phone and fax, two cell phones, e-mail and IM."

I'm not sure why people feel they need something beyond all that, but they do.

And texting seems to be getting ever bigger. It has happened so suddenly that even a computer spell checker of mine doesn't recognize the word. It asks me if I meant to say "testing" or "tenting." I sympathize with the spell checker.

You know those people I mentioned in their 80s who are left out of technology nation?

At 52, I know how it feels.

X Mark Patinkin writes for The Providence Journal. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.




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