It’s hard to believe the humble SMS is not yet 20 years old. Conceived in 1992, a single message which read ‘Merry Christmas’ began a form of communication which now sees a predicted 8 trillion text messages sent this year alone. And that’s not counting the 294 billion emails sent every day, and the hundreds of thousands of instant messages.
But herein lies my issue with SMS messaging, and any form of text-based communication for that matter. (And no, the irony of me telling you this via a written article has not been lost on me.)
Face-to-face conversation is only partly about the words you speak. It’s about tone, pitch, and body language, all of which comes together to form the message which is being conveyed so it is fully understood by the person you are talking to. In contrast, it’s a well-established fact that tone is difficult to convey via text, which can often lead to the message recipient misinterpreting what is actually meant. And the culprit for this, which often culminates in a heated argument? The humble full stop. Or period, if you’re American; but to avoid any confusion with menstrual cycles (a separate discussion altogether), we’re going to stick with full stop.
Just a tiny dot, a pixel or two at most, but one which can cause no end of problems. Why? Because the full stop is the Victor Meldrew of punctuation, a moody, cantankerous mark which conveys a rather grumpy seriousness, often leading to the wrong end of the stick being grasped.
An example, to illustrate my point. Imagine receiving this text message from a family member or friend in response to a request for help moving house:
If you’d received the first one, all would be well. Receive the second, and suddenly you think the person you’ve asked is begrudgingly agreeing, not really wanting to help but feeling they have to. And so you reply, and ask if they’re grumpy; which, if they’re not, will lead to a protracted discussion about why said person is not grumpy, which will then probably make them grumpy. Or, if you’re in a slightly inflammatory mood, you might text back and throw a bit of a strop over your friend’s apparent reluctance to help. He or she gets angered by your misinterpretation and subsequent reaction, and all hell breaks loose. All because of a full stop.
There is, of course, a third rendering of this message that you could have received, where any form of punctuation is abandoned and replaced by a kiss: ‘Fine x’. This, I am OK with: no grumpiness conveyed, nor a childish sense of excitement; but it is not applicable in all situations. It must be quite disconcerting if you’re a bloke, and you get a kiss on a text message from your dad, or your drinking buddy.
And so, I have come to the conclusion that we need another punctuation point: one which sits between a full stop and an exclamation mark on the happy/grumpy scale and which can be used where a kiss is inappropriate (or just plain weird). This will avoid any confusion and subsequent spats, and will perfectly express the sentiment of your message without any problems whatsoever, saving you potentially hours of valuable time before one day you inevitably die.
As yet, I have no suggestions as to what this new punctuation point would look like, but I’m sure I’ll come up with some ideas. But right now, I’m pretty busy. What’s that? Am I OK? Yes, I’m fine. No, honestly, I’m fine! Seriously. I’m fine x