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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Show some textiquette

By Megan Finnerty
Gannett News Service

Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, before he received the alleged I H8 U text message.

Associated Press library photo

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Text-messaging is typing brief notes on the keypad of your cell phone to send to someone else's cell phone. How to text politely:

1. When with someone, ask permission to check or send texts.

2. Set rules with family and friends for when texts can be sent and checked.

3. Don't text anything you would not want sent to someone else.

4. Follow school or workplace rules for cell phone use.

5. Don't text about sex.

6. Don't text anything sarcastic; it's too hard to understand.

7. Don't text anything negative or critical; it's better said over the phone.

Source: Laurie Puhn, author of "Instant Persuasion: How To Change Your Words To Change Your Life"

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Illustration by MARK W. LIPCZYNSKI | Gannett News Service

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No one was really surprised to hear about the pending Britney-K-Fed divorce, but one element has us reeling.

She dumped him with a text message.

"I H8 U, loser!" was the digital Dear John that Britney Spears, 24, reportedly sent to Kevin Federline, 28.

It was a new low.

With cell phone text messaging, the 219.4 million U.S. wireless users can instantly communicate whatever thought their impulsively tapping fingers spell out, without seeing a face or hearing a voice.

One service provider, Verizon Wireless, reported a record 5 billion text messages in September, 3 billion more than in the same month a year earlier.

Each tiny text is a chance for us to offend in 160 characters or fewer. Some socially accepted rules for when, where and what to text exist, but the medium is so new, etiquette experts are addressing the issue, says author and etiquette expert Joy Weaver of Dallas.

"There's no texting at weddings, funerals, religious services or during business meetings," said the author of "Just Ask Joy: How To Be Socially Savvy in All Situations" (Brown Books, 2005, $14.99). "People may do it, but they should leave the room, just like they would to take a call."

And although we cringe at Britney's breakup, it has been worse.

In 2003, British insurer Accident Group sacked 2,400 employees via text message, and in 2005, the human-resources director of a French radio station did the same to a handful of staffers.

To most, it seems obvious that such business ought not be conducted via text. But in a few years, that assumption may not be so universal.

The gap is widening between the younger and older generations as text messaging becomes the preferred method of communication for so many high-schoolers and college students. (One Arizona 13-year-old said it's not uncommon for her to send 3,000 text messages a month.)

The majority of adults 20 and older say it's never OK to ask a person out with a text, whereas the majority of teens say it's fine, according to a recent survey from cell phone company Samsung.

As for Britney, only 11 percent of Americans older than 15 think it's acceptable to break up via text. However, 22 percent of 13- to 15-year-olds say it's OK. (Insert your own conclusions about Britney's emotional maturity here.)

More text messages are sent on Thanksgiving and Christmas than on any other days, and 35 percent of young adults 18 to 22 say they have read or sent an e-mail or text during a holiday family meal, according to a recent survey by T-Mobile.

Text messaging is a way of life for college-age people, with its own colloquialisms, symbols and values, says Jim Farrellay, an English professor whose classes cover all means of communications at the University of Dayton in Ohio.

His students are so used to the language of text messaging and instant messaging that they use the abbreviations in formal papers, then conclude them with sign-offs such as "C YA."

Those papers get a failing grade in his class.

"(Messaging) is engendering bad habits at all levels of the population, but primarily with young people," he said. "To them, the more clipped the message, the better."

Letters, then e-mails, were once the easiest and least confrontational ways to communicate, and now text-messaging has lowered the bar again, reducing emotions to license-plate speak.

And the trend isn't slowing or likely to reverse, says Marc Lamont Hill, professor of urban education at Temple University in Philadelphia.

"In 20 years, we might not think anything of getting dumped with a text message," he says. "We're not there now, but we probably will be someday."