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Slices of Life... Communication revolution - bring your opposable thumbs

The intricacies of communication are in a constant state of flux, and some of the recent developments have me more than a little concerned.

It all started over 100 years ago when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and created the proverbial snowball that's been rolling downhill ever since. I'm not saying it's Bell's fault. He had no way of foreseeing the future potential for disaster that his invention possessed. How could he have imagined that the telephone might one day do away with our ability for verbal communication?

You read it here first. Based on current trends and practices I estimate that telephones will eliminate our need for vocal cords sometime within the next 30 million and three years - give or take one or two million.

That's the bad news. The good news is that during this same period, humans will acquire one extra finger and another opposable thumb on each hand. Think how handy that will be!

The basis for these astonishing predictions? Text messaging.

Up until just a few years ago, the term "text" was a mere noun. It's made the successful transition to verb, however, and once a word has felt the action-packed existence that a verb has to offer, there is no going back. It is akin to discovering cream after years of drinking skim milk. Text is a now verb; our world will never be the same. This is not a good thing.

Texting is taking the commune out of communication, and it terrifies me. Like a bad horror movie, its first victims are teenagers. For those of you who are not a teenager, or don't have one texting from within your house, text messages are written words typed into a cell phone and sent via the airwaves to another person's phone. Typical messages are comprised of simple ditties like: U thr? (You there), Whaz up? (What's up), LOL (Laugh out loud) ZZZ (I'm bored) and G2G (Got to go).

This doesn't sound so bad, and it wouldn't be, if done in moderation. But our teenagers are being sucked in like an errant dust bunny on vacuuming day. Whoosh! They eat lunch with one friend, while texting three others. They walk through the mall with their face buried in their phone. They text in the car, in school, at breakfast, in bed and in their sleep. Even if you don't live with one of your own, all one has to do is to look around to see that the teenagers around us are not looking around. They are texting.

To a casual observer, it could even look like addiction - which is a strong word, to be sure. But does 1,742 texts per month (about 60 per day) sound healthy to you? A recent Nielson survey of cell phone usage, published in the second quarter of 2008, showed that this is the average number of texts that teens use per month. Average. A quick online search showed me that parents are reporting numbers higher than this - 5,000... 7,000... and even 13,000 text messages per month. Where do our kids find the time?

The same Nielson survey found that Americans send and receive more text messages than phone calls each month. I was not kidding about that opposable thumb thing.

Which brings me to my most important questions and concerns. If our teenagers - the next generations of leaders in our nation - choose abbreviated, typewritten messages as their main form of communication, what does this mean in the big scheme of things? Can you text a job interview or a marriage proposal? How about a smile, or eye contact? How do you text a lift in the voice to indicate sarcasm, or a pause to show humor? Is it possible to text a hug?

Will the generation following today's teens take this phenomenon a step further? Will we grow into a society that favors people with agile finger dexterity and the ability to word process, but without the capacity for actual face-to-face interaction? What happens to the human race then? Perhaps the opposable thumb thing won't be an issue after all.

This is a subject wrought with opinions, and I'm sure everyone out there has theirs. Feel free to contact me with your thoughts. You can text me, but I probably won't answer.

Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and award winning freelance writer working with graphic designer Nikki Willgohs to provide writing and design and other marketing services to businesses and individuals. You can check out their Web site at http://marketing-by-design.home.mchsi.com/ or e-mail Jill at pertmn@qwest.net.

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