TEXT CULTURES + SMS INTIMACY

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It is required that the mobile user or viewer must now learn a new set of codes and conventions in order to successfully navigate and operate within a networked space. Of all the mobile applications, it is the “text message” or what some call “SMS” (Short Message Service), that has profoundly altered our socialization. The SMS message provides an inexpensive means of communicating and maintaining intimate relations with people across cultural and religious divides.

In her radio report “Text-Messaging Changes Dating in Afghanistan”, Martin (2006) outlines the role of the mobile device in assisting people to overcome cultural boundaries. Mobiles phones have become a vital means in assisting Afghani students to initiate romantic connections with the opposite sex. Martin (2006) states:

Afghan culture and Islamic tradition dictates that men and women can’t even look at each other directly. In Afghanistan, young men and women are rarely allowed to meet without a chaperone, making romance a challenge. But text messaging has launched a dating revolution in Kabul. (Martin 2005 )

Afghani students at the University of Kabul are using SMS messaging to establish relationships that would otherwise be considered impossible due to religious constraints. The mobile phone has enabled students to communicate intimately and secretly within the privacy of the mobisphere. According to Pertierra (2005), The Philippines is considered the texting capital of the world. Everyday Filipinos send over 200 million texts, which is ten times the per capita world average. For many people, the mobile phone creates valuable opportunities for creating intimate exchanges across the network. Pertierra (2005) suggests that:

Texting allows Filipinos to express themselves in new ways. They text what they would not normally say in a face-to-face encounter. This has led to new ways of relating with others as well as opened areas of innersubjective reflection. (Pertierra 2005:5 )

The high level of mobile phone usage in the Philippines suggests that many Filipinos have perhaps adapted their notions of intimacy to fit within the parameters of mobile phone technology.

A hybrid intimacy requires a hybrid language. The digital dialect of the SMS message continues to evolve. It has been adopted by both the so called “average user” and the mobile savvy. The truncated language of the SMS appears to be more a bi-product of the constraints and limitations imposed by the mobile device, rather than a need to shroud messages in secrecy. Consisting of no more than 160 characters, SMS messages restrict language usage and therefore generate new forms of narrative that acknowledge the needs and desires of the user.

text_msg.jpg.
Figure 4. Example of text language.

The above message (see Figure 4) translates as “missing you, so be great to see you tonight before I go to work”. The code like appearance of an SMS message suggests a subtext laced with elements of mystery and intrigue. Perhaps a perfect backdrop for the promotion and exchange of intimacy across the mobile network. For some, the phonetic gesturing of the SMS is as primitive as the desires and intimate responses it aims to illicit.

Text messages, due to their personal nature, can hold a special place in the heart of the recipient, and are easily stored and accessed for future reference. The revisiting of a text message can evoke treasured memories of a significant person or event, our mobile communication transcend place and time. Old text messages become artifacts of our previous encounters within the mobisphere. They help to create a personal, some may say profound, connection with the mobile device. Vincent (2005) observes:

Each mobile phone is uniquely reflecting the users life at that point in time; so the device ‘holds’ the memories, the sentiments that are associated with the text messages and numbers stored on the phone, the appointments, the ringtones chosen and the pictures held on the phone and not in the wallet and so on.

I remember the feeling of loss I incurred, when one day I accidentally erased a message from my ex partner that I had stored on my phone for over 18 months. It was like losing a connection to my past. I was forced to acknowledge that I was clinging to a memory that existed merely as code in the complex interface of a portable communication device. From that moment on I realized that I had succumbed to the powerful seduction of the mobile phone.

References

Pertierra, P 2005, Mobile Phones, Identity and Discursive Intimacy, viewed May 29 2006, <http://www.humantechnology.jyu.fi/archives/abstracts/pertierra05.html&gt;.

Vincent, J 2005, Emotional attachment and mobile phones. Thumb Culture: The Meaning of Mobile Phones in Society, Glotz, P; Bertschi, S; and Locke, C. (Eds) (2005)Transaction Publishers, London, U.K.

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~ by Dean on September 6, 2006.

2 Responses to “TEXT CULTURES + SMS INTIMACY”

  1. Dean,

    you should check out Day of the Figurines, an interactive narrative pervasive mobile game from a group of artists and technologists in the UK. http://www.blasttheory.co.uk/bt/work_day_of_figurines.html

  2. I find it interesting that as available as videophoning is, we still prefer sms. The character limitation and the lack of bandwidth in general is what makes a text message a text message – it is amusing that the dialect tries to cram as much information in as possible when it is the lack of information that makes texting such a unique medium.

    Twitter has acted in a similar fashion, with new forms of spreading information and metadata evolving right now. It will be intriguing to see how that evolves general usage.

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