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SMS: Is it Happenin' Yet?

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With the explosion of wireless communication, Americans want to always keep in touch (whether at school, in traffic, or even walking on the beach). Will we say "yes" to text messaging, or SMS (Short Message Service) the same way we have come to depend on other wireless media?
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In England, Asia, the Middle East, and South America the answer would be a resounding yes. However, in the U.S. the answer is, well...maybe.

Although mobile phones with voice capabilities have become firmly entrenched in American society, this is not the case with Short Message Services (SMS)—or text messaging, as it is commonly known. Mobile phones have given us the ability to have dangling conversations that meander from parking lot to train station to rail platform and on board without skipping a beat.

Moreover, picture this! On a recent summer weekend while at the shore, I looked over the sand to observe a woman in last year's candy-pink swimsuit splashing through knee-high ocean water, yakking away on her cell phone. Whoever thought that we would want to stay this connected? Ridiculous, isn't it?

On the other hand, when Americans want to send written notes, we invariably turn to e-mail, even if that means finding a library or Internet café; or we wait until we return to our office, school, or home. This e-mail habit has become so ingrained that it will be a hard one to break, if ever.

What's It All About?

For the uninitiated, text messaging is essentially data transmissions that allow a sender to relay from 140 to 160 written characters to a receiver. Languages that use hieroglyphics can send about half that amount, which means some 70 characters for Arabic and Chinese speakers. In order for transmissions to fit these limits, an array of abbreviations and definitions for visual pictures have sprung up.

For instance, "MTE" is the code for My Thoughts Exactly. It signals an agreement just as "AFAIK" translates into As Far As I Know. ">:-(" indicates that the sender is very angry; it means exactly the opposite of "ROFLOL" (Rolling on the Floor Laughing Out Loud) or ":')" (which means happy and crying). In fact, several common abbreviations have found a place in the venerable Oxford English Dictionary, circa 2002. Despite the credentialing, it still reminds me of Pig-Latin, which I learned and left behind in junior high school long ago.

In Japan, the culture of text messaging has exploded off the charts. Teenagers who have embraced it now have their own title, the oyayubi zoku, or thumb tribe. Although SMS units are an absolute "must have" for every teen, there is a cost incentive. Land lines for POTS require about $600 in deposits and fees prior to installation, making them prohibitive for most talkative teens. Further, in both Asia and the Middle East, time spent at Internet cafes can be quite expensive—making the choice to go mobile quite attractive.

Yet, like soccer, the passion for text messaging is lost on Americans. It's something we just don't "get."

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