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Instant Messaging

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Nowadays, communication can be instantaneous and sometimes incredibly cheap. With the boom of the Internet, cell phones, new gadgets and technologies, a new way of communication was born. Interestingly, text messaging was introduced as a piece of enterprise software to help workers maintain instant communication with their managers and other workers, but its use has exploded in the recent several years, especially among adolescents and young adults (Jeffrey and Spencer 30). As a result of the limited characters per message, usually 160 characters, users have increasingly become creative in shortening words by use of abbreviations. It also did cost less to users with superior message shortening skills. This paper therefore, seeks to establish how text messaging affects students writing skills both positively and negatively.

Popular Abbreviations

Language and writing skills as evident from its history can not only be influenced by other cultures but also can be highly manipulated through generations ((Jeffrey and Spencer 31; Richardson, Morgan and Fleener 307). Some of the popular abbreviations usually written in blocks include: BCNU (Be seeing you), BTW (By the way), IHNI (I have no idea), IMHO (In my humble opinion), L8R (Later), LOL (Laughing out loud), NP (No problem), OTOH (On the other hand), PCM (Please call me), PXT (Please explain that) WTG (Way to go) (O’Connor). As if text abbreviation wasn’t enough, students have increasing adopted symbol expressions such as :) to mean smile, :-) to denote happiness, :-x (kiss on the lips), :-( to mean crying,  >:-@! (Angry and swearing) and:-D to mean laughter. Single letters can replace words; at can be written as @, see as c, you as u and okay as k. Even numbers can replace words like won becomes 1 and too becomes 2. This is the new trend in communication and perhaps presents the toughest challenge on language manipulation in modern classroom.

Educators’ Concerns

As such, educators have raised concerns about whether the use of abbreviated forms of communication such as short message service%u2015SMS%u2015 leads to poorer writing skills among students. Some linguists argue that the causal use of language in both texting and IM’ing is an assault on formal written English, which can lead to a breakdown in basic skills in using the language properly (O’Connor). It is undeniable that SMS language has resulted in both positive and negative effects which need to be addressed accordingly.

Positive Effects

Some students claim that use of texting shorthand helps them keep better notes in class (Jeffrey and Spencer 31). This is because they save lots of time writing long sentences thus they become more attentive to their tutors rather than writing notes hours on end. While this popular trend has not been warmly received by educators who perceive it as a serious risk to English vocabulary, some linguists such as Carolyn Adger, notes that “Language and languages change...innovating with language isn’t dangerous...besides, text messaging is making it easier for people to communicate (Jeffrey and Spencer 30). Her sentiments are shared by survey contacted on text messaging in which a student asserted, “it’s not that I don’t like to talk on the phone...sometimes I just want to see what’s going on, as opposed to having a conversation. So it is easier to send a text” (30). Additionally, research has unequivocally shown that individuals do establish new relationships through instant messaging though geographically distant (O’Connor). Its benefits as a social communication tool in coordinating real-time tasks among the youth cannot be underestimated.

On writing skills, text messaging has had positive impacts as well. It provides a new means of converting thought into words. Perhaps this is one reason why teenagers today do write more than any other preceding generation since waning of letter writing a decade ago (O’Connor). As such, text messaging technology can be leveraged to provide a potentially powerful learning tool in writing. Besides, the SMS shorthand sparks critical thinking among the students as they try to be creative not only in abbreviating but also understanding the acronyms. Interestingly, students have a way of learning different writing styles for different occasions, when addressing peers they comfortably communicate using the shortened phrases but note to use Standard English in class work. Blanket condemnation is therefore, largely uncalled for!

Negative Effects

The rise of text messaging appears to have impacted on theb standards especially among teenagers.  Expertise in text messaging negatively affects spelling and punctuation in particular (Richardson, Morgan and Fleener 307). With its use of phonetic spelling and little or no punctuation at all, text messaging poses a threat to traditional convections in writing and to English as a language. Particularly, the evidence of its negativity is shown in poor spellings, wrong sentence structure, and punctuations that violate rules of grammar and mechanics of writing. Unfortunately, heavy users of IMs and SMSs may simply forget or at worst, neglect to use the proper form English in their formal writings such when turning in course assignments. Knowing when to use informal and formal word and sentence structure increasingly becomes a challenge to such students.

Conclusion

All said and done, the question of whether text messaging poses a threat to formal writing is perhaps better framed in reference to suitability. It has its advantages and disadvantages as highlighted above. Therefore, rather than discouraging this alternate and modern mode of communication, perhaps it is a challenge to educators to teach students that not all forms of expression are suitable in all situations. There is need to emphasize that while text shorthand may be acceptable in text messaging, it is inappropriate when used in formal classroom and examination writing. We should thus not treat text messaging to blanket condemnation!

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