One step forward, two steps back

Posted by on January 06, 2011

Everyone I talk to who’s considering making the leap from a dumbphone to one of the all-singing, all-dancing smartphones, says the same thing – yes, but I don’t really need all that extra functionality … I’ll never use it … I only want to phone and text and take the odd picture. I was exactly the same; I ridiculed smartphones for being, well, too smart. And then the same thing happens to us all – we get our shiny new toy and fall hopelessly in love with it.

Suddenly, we can’t go five minutes without checking our email, seeing what everyone else is doing on Facebook and looking for the latest deals on Amazon (oh, my poor tired credit card). It’s all just so easy and convenient. We spend hours browsing the App Store (or equivalent), and our dumbphone friends tease us mercilessly (till it gets them too).

One thing I have noticed, though, is the effect it has on the language of text messages. We’ve talked before here about textspeak and how it’s influencing other areas of language, and I was discussing the possible effect on QWERTY keyboards only a couple of weeks ago.

I was aware as I was writing that, though, of the flipside; the fact that, with the rise of smartphones featuring keyboards instead of keypads, it’s often now quicker to write in more ‘normal’ English. Think about it – with the keypad, it was quicker to use numbers instead of certain words (2 for to, 4 for for etc) because you ‘typed’ by hitting the same nine keys over and over (which can be done very quickly, with practice). But with smartphones, you actually have to change mode in order to get to the numbers, so you might as well type to as change mode and type 2. (Maybe on some smartphones the numbers appear on the same screen as the letters, and this isn’t an issue, but on the iPhone they don’t.)

These uber-clever phones also take words out of your mouth (predictive texting gone mad, it sometimes seems) so there’s no need for abbreviations like tomoro, because by the time you’ve typed tomo, the blooming thing’s already finished it off for you (I still maintain, however, that when I type me, I mean me not mr – if you have an iPhone, you’ll know what I mean!).

If you’re a proper text-speak aficionado, maybe it’s different – you’re abbreviating to the point that no smartphone can predict it and switching between modes is still quicker than typing longhand. But for people like me, who were semi-users of text-speak (text-speak lite, perhaps?) the smartphone has caused an unexpected return to more formal English.

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