TextMessaging and Orality

The cell phone is perhaps the single most ubiquitous feature of communication technology and according to the CTIA over 82% of Americans own one. Its ubiquity is not only due to its overwhelming ownership but by its very nature considering that neither a computer nor a land-line phone can be carried and used so easily. This facile manipulation of technology hints at McLuhan’s comment. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of those cell phones have text-messaging capability. Text messaging as a phenomenon has gained attention from academics and critics primarily because of the proclivity of its users to employ "creative" grammatical and linguistic constructions. Its harshest critics claim that it will, or already has, led to a corruption of language. Indeed its pliable and dynamic structure does allow a manipulation of formal grammatical and linguistic rules that would be difficult to parse in formal essays, such as this one. its function in a civilization that has long been inscribed by writing fulfills a much different role than essays, or letters- though its effect on language might be inedible and perceived even in those forms. Text-messaging and related channels represent a syncretism between oral and written forms of communication, and while it lacks the formal purity of traditional written forms of communication, it maintains its own separate aesthetic and poetic qualities that emphasize a heavy reliance on context, mnemonic deployment, and efficiency. By analyzing the physical nature, functional and literary features of text-messaging the oral features of text-messaging will be revealed, understanding of course that in the final analysis its essence as a textual form of communication in a hypertextual society remains regnant.
In attempting to outline the structural features of text-messaging and related conduits of communication such as instant messaging, it will be juxtaposed to the features of orality that are relevant. Consider Edouard Glissant’s quote, "Oralityis inseparable from the body in movement" (MacNeil, 2007). We understand text and the printed word to be primarily outside the body, distinct from the body and its author. Spoken word or talk is understood to be generated from within the body and indistinct from the author. Text-messaging straddles this interior/exterior boundary. The device on which one types or texts undeniably lies outside the body, its reception as well is mediated by a device outside the person. This is an important distinction as one of the salient features of oral communication is that it is received immediately and without explicit and conscious mediation, insofar that the reverberation of sound, the movement of air is not interpreted into words or speech until it is well into the ear canal, and though we recognize the source of the sound, its compilation occurs internally (Ong, 1982, pp. 32-33). To some degree this is quite different from the structure of text-messaging, insofar like other textual forms of communication, it is understood that the interpretation occurs on the page, in the visual field. However, in considering the intimate and tight connection between text-message and text-messenger there remains some features of the bodily coextension of orality. The cell phone’s mobility and sizes bridges the communication barrier imposed by other devices, such as computers, telephones, even paper. Someone can interact with and use their cell

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