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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Does texting make U mean?

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Toronto Star

Apr 21, 2009 04:30 AM

Professor Tim Blackmore has learned not to get upset at the messages his students send him.

"They sound like they're going to burn your door down," says Blackmore, who teaches media studies at the University of Western Ontario.

"They send messages that are both lazy and in the imperative – "Hey, u didn't tell me what was wrong with my paper.
"You think, that's some crust. But then they come into your office and they are crying. They are nice people. But their messages are surface, not about depth. They need to step back and get some context."

Is instant messaging, texting and tweeting making us mean?

This was the question swirling in the wake of a study that showed the brain needs eight seconds to register social pain or virtue and produce emotions of empathy, compassion or admiration.

In contrast physical pain, is recognized much quicker, almost instantly, says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a researcher who worked on the University of Southern California study.
While the USC study – released yesterday by the National Academy of Sciences in its Online Early Edition – did not look directly at instant messaging, Immordino-Yang says a link to the study's findings on delayed emotional reactions "is a very intriguing possibility."

"What it suggests is that we should think seriously" about the effect this has on instant messaging, she said in a phone interview, noting that her child, 7, sends her emails at work.

"A young child may not know the social implications of what they are doing and seeing (in rapid messaging). It is an open question and suggests the need for further research."

Our brains register the pain of others as if it were our own, says Immordino-Yang, with physical pain being "felt" in one part of the cerebral cortex and social pain being "felt" in another part.

People have these deep "gut feelings" for others' situations after years of exposure to books and stories and experiences, says Immordino-Yang, adding, "They give us deep, moral illumination."
But it takes time to ignite those feelings, the study says, leading to speculation that rapid-fire communication could just be too fast for the good feelings to kick in.

Blackmore doesn't think it's the fault of the brevity of the messages, especially Twitter, which allows only 140 characters per message.

It is context and thought that are missing, he feels, citing writer Ernest Hemingway's boast he could write a short story in six words, leading to the evocative sentence: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Meanwhile, the Internet is full of Twitter posts encapsulating great works, such as the one for Homer's Odyssey that ends "Back home! Who r all these random dudes?"

Underlying such a tweet is the writer's grasp of one of the great works of literature, he says, which takes a very long time to read.

"It takes time to live life, it takes time to ponder it."

University of Toronto linguistics expert Maria Cristina Cuervo notes text messaging is no faster than talking and "speaking is very fast."

The fuss about instant messaging is reminiscent of the early furor created by the telephone, she says, when people fretted that it would ruin conversation because you couldn't see each other.

"People were still able to be empathetic over the phone," says Cuervo, adding the quality of all such exchanges, online or not, is set by the relationship between the people.

"The more you know a person," the better you are at grasping the emotions they are conveying in any form of messaging, she says.

And, as she points out, you can always add a smiley face
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  1. This irks me every time. I type texts how I speak, whether that includes a "haha" or a smiley, it's in there. I can't stand people that are short and cold sounding in their they're way too simple responses, like "i dunno" or "whatev" or THE WORST YET, just "k." I mean what a waste of a text, really. one letter. ugh.
    Anyhoo, I totally agree with this article. And who sends their professors texts?!

  2. That's what I thought was odd. I would never text my professors. If I email them I make sure that it is in proper form, no spelling errors, and very polite even if I am pissed off. They have to be treated with respect especially if you are trying to get your grade changed.

  3. I'm not sure what i think of this article overall. I'm wierd because i dont text and i am not on facebook, twitter, myspace or anything like that. So it's hard for me to have an opinion about this issue when i dont know a lot about it.
    I do think texting can be bad for kids learning to spell because they are not typing actual words. And there can be a lot of miscommunication. Like when people text me and it takes me an hour to figure out what they are trying to say. But i didnt know that text messages can seem angry/mean. I guess that's also because people dont take the time to be polite.


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