Sour Note: Texting Leaves Writers, Readers Tone-Deaf

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Sour Note: Texting Leaves Writers, Readers Tone-Deaf


When Neil Papworth sent the world’s first text message (“Merry Christmas”) in 1992, it’s doubtful he knew the horrors he was unleashing on the English language.

Still, the father of “text trash” should be placed in stocks in the public square, sporting sackcloth and ashes.

Sample Problem

If that sentence sounds a tad harsh, consider what texting has done to the written sentence. There should be a lynch mob forming on the skirts of town.

But before we grab ropes and torches, let’s review the evidence in this case.


The written sentence has been called “the basic unit of human thought.” It’s that important. What’s happened to it since the advent of texting should concern us all.

Let me open with an assertion, at once bold and depressing: the writing ills caused by texting are so systemic, and the technology that spawned them so pervasive, language will never fully recover. Not this time.

The world has never abandoned a successful new technology. We will never put this genie back in the bottle. We’re playing for keeps.

Our symbiotic relationship with mobile phones has grown from an affection to an addiction. And the bad habits generated by texting have spread to other writing, even in classrooms, where some student essays now resemble social media posts.

“The tycoons of social media have to . . . admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts, selling an addictive product to children,” comedian Bill Maher recently observed.

This contagion is not limited to young people, though. Fully 91 percent of adults now own mobile phones, the fastest growing consumer technology in history. Smartphones are the Swiss army knives of modern communication.

It was 10 years ago, on June 29, 2007, that Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first multi-touch smartphone. For better or worse, selfies and citizen journalism were born.

The very nature and design of cell phones, with their multiple keyboards, encourages sloppy writing. Users seldom capitalize letters, they tend to abbreviate words longer than one syllable, and eliminate punctuation altogether.

Letting readers decide where to punctuate a sentence can be risky:

“Let’s eat, kitty.”

“Let’s eat kitty.”

Whether this is a natural evolution of language, or a “dumbing down” of culture, can be debated. Or can it?

Many professional writers, when asked for their best tip to improve language skills, have long replied: “Write. Even if it sounds lousy, write for at least 15 minutes a day.” If texting can be called “writing,” that may no longer be sage advice.

The effect texting has had on students is especially alarming. Fine writing, an integral part of nearly every academic subject, is a vanishing art form.

Perhaps if writing is compared to music, students will exhibit more passion for the written word. There is a close connection.

Words are like musical notes: they make sounds on paper (and computer screens).

Students should be taught to read their work aloud. Do they hear a concert or a cacophony? They are not just jotting down words; they’re writing lyrics.

And, when students alternate sentence length, they create music. Their writing “sings.” It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. Students can learn to construct sentences that burn with energy and build to a crescendo.

If students fancy themselves as emerging literary rock stars, perhaps they’ll treat their writing with more respect.

Computer technology has been both a blessing and a bane for language. But some things haven’t changed.

Every incorrect sentence still brands students as incompetent, lazy, or both. And that’s a stinging indictment by the people they least want to offend: teachers and prospective employers, for example.

Our writing speaks volumes about us. Every sentence we write is a testament to our education, our background, our ability, our prospects for success.

In some respects, fine writing is more difficult in the era of modern communications, but not impossible. It just takes a conscious effort to keep technology in its place.

And what of Neil Papworth? Let’s release him with this public scolding, and some added retribution as a deterrent: make him read unedited text messages for a month. That should keep him out of trouble for a long time.

About The Author

Professional Writer And Editor
I am a professional writer, with hundreds of published stories to my credit, and a former newspaper editor. I also served as director of communications in the corporate arena. I am a recipient of state, national, and international first-place writing awards in the areas of education, business, ...
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