Pouring Old Text Into New Skins

My college journalism professor decried the birth of USA Today and its “circus spread” style of layout or design. This format, he explained in disgust, spelled the doom of modern civilization, because it showed the strength of television’s influence over newspaper. Television turned the news into a circus. I lasted only a semester as a journalism student.

My professor’s point makes sense, though. Media inherit aspects of their previous forms, finding “shape” for them, as Marshall McLuhan was quick to point out. I remembered the “circus spread rant” when I bought my first copy of Generation X by Douglas Coupland. The book’s shape is decidedly square, like a television. The internal layout looks like a magazine or cheesy textbook, replete with breakout boxes and vocabulary words in the margins. Each chapter takes as much time to read as the span of time in between television show commercials, maybe less. The message is in the format as much as in the content. It’s the perfect book for the MTv generation.

When people resist new technology, marketers and designers must resort to creative ways to hide it in people’s homes. Telephones and televisions are great examples. Once upon a time, the telephone stuck out like a sore thumb and people didn’t know what to do with it. So tiny salons and vestibules were built to hide phones and phone conversations. Then, the telephones came out of hiding and designers decorated them lavishly. Televisions were disguised as furniture in big, bulky, wooden consoles until they were normalized as part of the living room landscape.

McLuhan’s truism about the vestiges of old media forms rings true for my texting habits. I violate texting etiquette and drive my conversation partners (textees? interactants?) nuts. My kid says I text like a thirteen year old on a sugar high. That makes me think of playing D&D with the kids when they were tweens and their god-awful habit of pouring pixie sticks into Mountain Dew. We had to take frequent breaks and let them run up and down the halls of the Law School to burn off some of that sugar energy. True story. Back to texting etiquette.

For more years than I care to state publicly, I played text-based online games, the grandfather of MMORPGs. My texting style resembles the rhythm of “out of character” interactions, either private one-on-one paging or in the public hangout zones. These patterns are probably similar to old chat room conversations. During these interactions, the conversations scroll unthreaded down the screen, without formatting, and at rapid speed, thereby creating concurrent, non-linear conversations. Yet, participants have no problem parsing the threads. Unless you’ve been on a text-based game, you probably won’t resonate with these examples. My point mainly illustrates the way that old media forms smuggle themselves into new media even as new media gobbles up old forms.

So, here is an anecdotal account derived from a very, very small slice of life. If anything, it just explains another reason why I’m weird.

1) I avoid texting abbreviations. It took me a long time to bring myself to adopt them. No “ur” for “your” or “u” for “you.” This is a clear holdover from online roleplaying games where there is great condescension toward people who use chatroom abbreviations. The occasional  LOL, OMW, IDK are acceptable. Some people attribute this to my profession as a teacher, but that’s inaccurate. I also attempt to use AFK, GTG, BRB and other online acronyms, which makes absolutely no sense in the context of texting. In texting, people let the thread drop (who even says thread?) and there’s no remorse. On a phone call, you say goodbye.

2) I send multiple short texts in rapid-fire succession. That drives people crazy. I had no idea it violated texting norms.

3) I do not wait for a reply before I shoot off the next text. That also drives people crazy. This creates a non-linear conversation that many people cannot follow.

 

4) Wrong window. As a side note, I frequently want to use “mav” or “wrong window” to explain a misdirected text. In text-based gaming, a “mav” is a stray page or misdirected private communication that you accidentally send to the wrong person because you make a typing error. According to online lore, it is named after a character called “Maverick,” which sounds suspiciously like an urban legend because a maverick is an unbranded or stray calf. So, stray calf, stray page, coincidence? I think not! But I’ve run into too many folks over the years who claimed to know someone who knew the original Maverick… “Wrong window” is basically the same thing. People often play multiple characters and therefore have multiple windows open and therefore send a message in the wrong window using the wrong character.

So, what do you say when you accidentally text the wrong person? “Mav” is three letters…. Do you have anything shorter?

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