I am always amazed at how much time people spend on their mobile phones doing that which I call Thumbing. I have watched the sms phenomenon unfold in my family and larger social network. A few years ago my mom and aunts had no idea how to use the sms functions on their phones, recently all of them are Texting, Tweeting, Whatsapping, Skype chatting and BBMing (Blackberry messenger). I now receive endless sms’ from the older women in my life about mundane domestic things, something that would have required a phone call or face to face conversation five years ago.
These days my young cousins and their friends (and even my friends) spend a large share of their day on their cellphones engaging in this phenomenon called Thumbing. For me thumbing describes the use of our thumbs to type on our QWERTY keypads and touch screens. People are profusely thumbing messages to each other and sometimes people are in the same room sending messages to each other instead of having a real face-to-face conversation.
Sadly, this phenomenon has also crept into my love life. My partner and I now wake up and roll over towards our cellphones to Facebook, Whatsapp or check trends on Twitter. We instant message each other back and forth while we lie next to each other on the same bed. The instant messages are usually us telling each other stupid things that are happening in the “world” outside our bed. Is this the end of intimacy as we know it? That is a topic for another day, all I can say is that we are progressively becoming mute and are freely relinquishing our ability to “voice” things to those around us.
Don’t get me wrong, I see the value of all of these platforms when there is a distance and cost factor involved. It’s cheaper and easier to send texts to my sister in Germany. It’s more convenient for my mom to sms me the shopping list instead of calling me about it. It’s cheaper for my aunt to Whatsapp me responses when she is in a meeting. It’s better for all my friends on BBM to BBM me messages when they are in another city or country. It’s better to send status updates on Twitter and Facebook when you are trying to tell many people where you are and what you are doing or what you are thinking.
What I don’t get is people who share a house or office, are in the same room, on the same bed but are opting to thumb their messages instead of having a real conversation. To add to that, they no longer use grammatically correct and complete sentences, now we get things like: brb (be right back), GR8 (great), L8 (late),OMG (oh my gosh),G2G (got to go), WTH (what the hell) and a variation of others. My all-time favourite is LOL (laugh of loud), what happened to actually laughing out loud?
Are we all thumbing our way into arthritis in our fingers? Are we dumbing down our children by allowing them to have access to cellphones and social networking sites? Are we turning into a mute society? A society that only communicates via the cyberspace? What happened to good old conversation between people?
In the case of my mom and aunts, they are a generation that went through a harsh schooling system which taught them to read and write grammatically correct sentences. Their advantage is that they have recently entered into this thumbing world and thus send coherent and correctly spelt and punctuated sentences when they Thumb.
However, the younger generation are growing up in this age of super Thumbing. Their use of shortened words, abbreviations and overly exaggerated punctuations leaves them at a great disadvantage and state of illiteracy. Thumbing seems to have created a whole new vocabulary that is exclusively theirs.
The frail education system is not equipped to produce “fully” literate people and we further compound the burden by allowing young people to immerse themselves into their mobile phones and texting. We are breeding a generation that will be illiterate, mute, socially inept, lack interpersonal skills and ultimately have crippled thumbs. What are the implications of this in advancing young women and men in South Africa? If education is the key to success, what does a generation of illiterate people mean for South Africa’s global competiveness? How are women going to be empowered out of poverty if they cannot read or write properly? These are some of questions that plague me right now.