Jun 292010

By Frank Wessling

Tests of speed may be the oldest and most durable of human competitions. Some, like running, must be as old as two cave boys racing to see who gets the bigger piece of mammoth pie. Others couldn’t even be imagined until modern technology invaded our brain patterns.

Part of this summer’s news is the speed texting contest being held by one of our cellular phone companies. For those of us who think a phone is only a tool for talking at long distance, this will be, as they say, a wakeup call. The cell phone has become a pocket computer with a tiny keyboard. Our children have become amazingly adept at thumbing those keys with a new shorthand language.

Some of their symbols can be figured out fairly quickly, like CUL8R (that’s “see you later” for the slow among us). But you might not catch the meaning of PRL, and that’s all right because you’re not supposed to. It means “parents are listening.” Obviously, much of this stuff is done surreptitiously, under the noses of parents, teachers and even friends in the same room who could spoil the game of the moment if they knew what flirting was underway.

The girls might be surprised to know that one of their abbreviations, SWAK, could have been used by their grandmothers 50 years ago, though it would have been printed on the back of an envelope sent to the boy with whom they hoped to have an LTR (“long term relationship”).

Anyway, just as some of today’s mothers and grandmothers once competed in old-fashioned shorthand speed contests, today the daughters and granddaughters race to see whose thumbs are fastest. And it’s mind-boggling what they can do.

When the texting contest held a session for the Davenport area, one entrant claimed that she sends 500 text messages in an average day. Another said she averages 300 to 400. Assuming that these young ladies allow a few hours for sleep each day, they are sending and receiving cryptic messages every two minutes or so. Does that explain why so many young people seem to have a cell phone attached to one hand?

If a message every two minutes is part of normal living, we probably shouldn’t be surprised if the winner of that speed texting contest does five or six or more per minute when racing the clock.

Some communication can be done at great speed, and something may be gained by that. But let’s hope and pray that even as the kids become skilled at thumbing their little phone buttons they also come to realize they’re playing in the shallow water of human connection. It’s pleasing for a moment to get a TOY message (“thinking of you”). However, that won’t translate into a real relationship without two things that require unhurried time: face-to-face exclusive attention, with a deepening sharing of mind and heart, and solitude for touching the deeper parts of one’s own hope and desire.

We can race in dozens of ways on the surface of life and enjoy the excitement. The greater race, the one St. Paul urges us to “win” (1 Cor. 9:24), doesn’t even involve speed. It asks instead for attention, focus, a sustained openness to grace and virtue — all kinds of virtue — that builds the self-giving person capable of lasting love. We know it as the kind of love that’s sealed with a life as well as SWAK (“sealed with a kiss” if you’ve forgotten).

Finally, MGB (“May God Bless”).

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