Ruok? Pcm. Cul8R. Luv U. Get the Msg? Focus: Mobile Culture ; Texting by Mobile Phone Is the Latest in Youth Communication. but It's Not All Fun and Flirtation
Thompson, Jonathan, The Independent (London, England)
It's time to go to bed - the next four days are your most fertile." This is the text message which will appear on the mobile phones of hundreds of carefully selected women across the world this weekend.
Meanwhile, their partners will be treated to a selection of electronic dispatches on behalf of their other half, from "I've got my lucky knickers on", to "I'm ready and waiting".
These encouraging sexual missives are part of a new personal mobile phone fertility service which was launched by the website www.motherand baby.co.uk on Wednesday.
By subscribing to the website, couples can receive regular information via their mobiles informing them of their most fruitful conception windows.
Despite its ingenuity, however, the motherandbaby.co.uk initiative is only the latest scheme within what is becoming a bona fide marketing phenomenon.
According to BT Cellnet, "texting" (as it is colloquially known), or SMS (Short Message Service) to give its official title, is expanding at the rate of 1,800 per cent a year.
Around half a billion text messages were sent in the UK last month, as compared to 50 million over the same period last year. Worldwide, the number of messages sent via mobile phones in August was approximately 8 billion.
"SMS is comfortable, quick and easy. Once people have started using it, they stick to it," said Kent Thexton, managing director of Genie, BT's global mobile internet wing.
The SMS phenomenon has even evolved its own sub-language, based around a unique lexicon of abbreviations and symbols.
Within this outlandish electronic shorthand, phrases are stripped of their vowels and squashed down to a handful of numbers and letters. "See you later" becomes "CU l8r", and "8-)", which should be viewed at a 900 angle to this page, denotes "wide-eyed happiness".
"The service is successful because it fits a million purposes," said Thexton. "It clearly started with the youth part of the market, and spread from there."
Within the youth market itself, texting continues to be a popular means of communication.
A survey published earlier this month by Mori and the internet company Lycos, shows that 81 per cent of 15- to 24-year-old mobile phone users are using text messages to coordinate social arrangements. Furthermore, 42 per cent of the same group admitted using the service for flirtation.
The survey also found that 37 per cent of all text messagers have used the service to tell someone they love them.
On a less romantic note, it discovered that an astonishing amount of relationships were begun and ended by the inauspicious bleep of a text. Twenty per cent of 15-to 24- year-olds had used the medium to ask someone out on a date, and 13 per cent had dumped their lovers in the same way.
Earlier this year, Donovan Shears, a bar manager from Coventry, hit the headlines after proposing to his girlfriend via text message - a woman whom he had first met in exactly the same way. The wedding is set for next year.
The phenomenon has also found a fertile niche within club culture. "SMS is where it's at for young people," says Ben Turner, editorial director of worldpop.com, a global music portal. …