The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Monday, December 21, 2009


CBS REPORTER: Mr. President, what is your plan to stop the war?


This is an essay about how text-messaging is turning us into a nation of illiterates. And one of the illiterates is, in about thirty years, going to become President of the United States.

I voted for Barack Obama for two main reasons:

1. I was terrified that one night John McCain’s mind would snap and we’d be suddenly in a nuclear war. Do I respect him? Absolutely. Do I think he’s a brave, courageous man who went through hell and came out alive? Without a doubt. Am I proud of what he did for our country? No question about it. Do I trust him as Commander In Chief of our Armed Forces? Not as far as I could sling a piano.

2. Obama is the best public speaker I’ve seen since Clinton. Actually, he’s better than Clinton. He’s smooth, articulate, makes excellent eye contact, appears authoritative without being overbearing, is both calm and passionate at the same time, and believable. Yes, of course I know he doesn’t write his own material, but you can tell he has a lot of hands-on experience with his speechwriting team.

What does all of this have to do with text-messaging? Well, take a moment. I want all of you right now to try to think of five people you know who do not own a cell phone. You can’t do it, can you? (No, your Mad Uncle Renwick who lives on the Arctic Circle doesn’t count). Heck, I’ll even give you a freebie—me. I don’t even have Caller ID. I do get free unlimited long distance, though.

Now, before you think I’m some kind of neo-Luddite, I will disclose my drug of choice—the internet. God, do I love the internet. If I had more than three friends, I’d e-mail all day long. I can’t go for 4 hours without looking up something on Google or Mapquest or Wikipedia, and when I was dragged kicking and screaming onto Facebook I would stay there for days if my dad didn’t need me to go food shopping.

I absolutely love because, even though I own over a dozen dictionaries in print, is updated daily; for example, my most recently printed dictionary doesn’t have the words “internet” or “website” and the definition for “browsing” merely delineates wandering aimlessly through a store.

But then came text-messaging. And the bastard children of text-messaging, “leetspeak,” “netspeak” and “chatspeak.” Now, I understand that texting costs money per character typed, but here’s the logic I could never wrap my mind around.

1. Let’s pretend I have a cell phone. I am supposed to meet my cousin Annemarie for lunch.

2. Annemarie is running late. She has a cell phone.

If I have a phone, and Annemarie has a phone, why can’t she just call me (which is actually cheaper than texting)? We could quickly make alternate plans, hang up, and be done with it.

But the worst thing that text-messaging has done is its effects on my college students. I have been an English professor for over a dozen years, and every year as texting becomes more and more “indispensible” to the 18-22 year-old sect, their actual vocabularies in the English language decrease.

I am literally stunned, each term, when I receive formal academic essays, the rules and etiquette I have gone over for copiously (complete with handouts) with the numerals “4” instead of “for” or “u” instead of “you” and “r” instead of “are” and “8” instead of “ate.” Folks, here is the golden rule:

Unless you are Prince, you cannot use numbers for words.

(I am deliberately omitting Van Halen’s OU812 and INXS’s whole name because those are just clever. The e-mails—real, actually, completely un-futzed with e-mails, came from sophomore college students to me. Their professor. Their English professor.

Whenever I write a short (two or three sentences) e-mail to my department Chair, it takes me half an hour. Do I have everything punctuated correctly? Did I run it through Spell Check nine times? Am I sure that word means what I think it means? I sweat, chatter my teeth, and almost chew my acrylics off.

But go ahead—see for yourself:

Example One:

hey professor how are you doing I been fighting a crappy cold that
has been draining me I couldnt get out of bed today Im very sorry for
being absent I go to doctor tomorrow here is my paper you have a
good one Peace

(Schmo’s name)

Wow. Barely any punctuation and no capitalization at the beginning. Great.

Example Two:

sorry that i didnt make it to class earlier today, i was on my way
here and there was a 3 car accident right in front of me and i was
stuck in the middle of the road for like 45 minutes. by the time i got
to the college it was 9am already and it was pointless to come to
class. once again im sorry for this but i wil be attending on thursday.

This one was unsigned, so I have no idea whose it is.  I guess he thinks I'm like Patrick Jane on "The Mentalist." No capitalization or punctuation at all.

Example Three:

Hello Ms. BeowulfGirl

Hi Mr. Nigroc

I'm just letting you know that I won't be able to make it to class tomorrow ( 9:30 am /tue). My son and I were in a car accident today and my car was towed and is un drivable. I will bring u a copy of the accident report when it's ready. Hopefully by tomorrow. Please let me know if there is anything you would like done for Thursday's class.

Thank you,

(Whole name)

(“Street” name)

Ooooookay. First of all—Ms. BeowulfGirl? Sweetie, I spent seven years and tens of thousands of dollars to earn the title of “Professor,” you are going to damn well going to use it. Also, this person apparently also thinks I’m “Mr. Nigroc,” whoever he is. Did you catch the “u” for “you?” And the signing with the street moniker was actually kind of considerate, really.

Example Four:

Here is that paper that you started grading today in class, my cell
phone number is ###-#### give me a call, if i dont pick up its
either because im in class or im driving, leave a message and as soon
as i get the chance i will call back..

(Guy’s name)

He never did call back, and since he submitted the paper in a program I can’t open, he ended up with a zero. Again, no punctuation—even on “I” for God’s sake. Are we really that lazy? That we can’t hit the Shift key along with the letter?

Example Five:

Hey beowulfgirl I came to class late Tuesday I was sick and I missed my 8am class but I dragged myself there by 945 to walk into ur class 15 mins late to find no one there lol I walked around aimlessly for like 10 mins till I saw Julie and she told me that almost no one showed up I wanted you to kno I had my rough draft for you cuz I couldn’t find a 07 issued of word sorry, also I will also have to try email u my “lie” paper cause I need to get printer ink tomorrow so you will have it asap tomorrow after class again very sorry for just missin you Tuesday.

Wow. Again…”Hey beowulfgirl?” See previous paragraph on correct use of my title—this clown is not my best friend. I challenged this guy to actually read aloud this missive exactly as he wrote it—with absolutely no pauses or punctuation—without running out of breath. He couldn’t do it. Neither could the other five brave souls that tried. I also find the juxtaposition of “cuz” and “cause” rather quaint, along with the omnipresent “u.”

This one, though, is my absolute favorite:

Example Six:

Hi proffessr Bayowolfgurl,, IWill not be in class today becase I have to go to Wal-Mart to buy a strapless braw for my bridesmaids gown1

Wow, there’s so much wrong here I don’t even know where to start. Aside from the mangling of the word “Professor,” this chick doesn’t even know how to spell my name (which is very, very common and easy) after fourteen weeks. But what horrifies me the most is that a 21 year old woman doesn’t know how to spell “bra.”

And to think that when some child-burdened person has the nerve to badger me for remaining blissfully childfree for life, their first whine is always “but chyyyyyldrennnn are our fyooooture.”

Not my future.  Not these children, you dumb bint. Better check Harvard or Yale or Oxford.

And take away their damn cell phones.

Next Time: My Past Career As A Fag Hag