Friday, November 30, 2007
In the World of Competitive Texting, Over 20 Is Over the Hill (WIRED)
The moment I step inside New York City's Roseland Ballroom I can feel the tension rising. Huge plasma screens hang from the ceiling of the cavernous space to provide spectators a view of the action. Shrouded in a hooded red satin robe, the reigning West Coast champ stands in a corner near the entrance taking questions from reporters. The entire arena is abuzz with competitive energy. I only hope I can channel it into my thumbs.
Today, Roseland is the scene of the National Texting Championship, and I can tell I'm out of my league. Although I'm only 25, my competition — forming a line more than 300 rivals long and extending out onto West 52nd Street — looks an average of five to 10 years younger. Most tap idly at their phones; some carry their devices in belt-clip holsters. Many clutch permission slips from their parents.
Looking around at the sea of cyberteens with keypad appendages, I try to psych myself up: Don't worry, you've got years of texting experience on these guys. Then I remember my acute disadvantage: Competition sponsor LG requires the use of one of its QWERTY-keyboarded phones, and I've had mine for only a day. Feeling uneasy, I turn to that West Coast champion, 21-year-old Eli Tirosh, who flew in from Los Angeles for the event.
"I probably shouldn't be telling you this, being that you're the competition," she says, before advising me to "watch out for the shift and symbol keys. They're close to each other." I ask her which competitors pose the greatest threat, and without hesitation Tirosh answers: "The 15-year-olds."
When the games begin, I join a bracket with the four oldest-looking texters I can find — ages 19, 19, 23, and 28. As the moment of truth approaches, the almost thirtysomething asks if he can use his phone's T9 feature. Jeers and mockery rain down on the guy — clearly he's doomed. Our phones are on the table in front of us, our hands behind our backs, and our eyes fixed on a plasma screen, where a clock is counting down. When it reaches zero, the phrase "Faster than a speeding bullet..." appears. Everyone grabs their phone and tries to text the phrase fast and error-free before sending it to the judge. I'm quick, but not so accurate — I tap one comma instead of a period in the ellipses. I'm out. I join the other losers in the spectators' area.
As the rounds progress, the phrases become increasingly intricate, and the average age of the remaining participants drops. Eventually, the national title and $25,000 prize come down to two finalists: Tirosh and Morgan Pozgar, a junior high schooler from Claysburg, Pennsylvania. The crowd gasps when the last challenge flashes on the monitor — the first lines of the Mary Poppins classic "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." The finalists tap madly. Tirosh finishes first, but has misspelled fragilistic. Seconds later, Pozgar sends a flawless rendering, earning the texting crown. Tirosh stands to the side, stunned. She knew to be wary of the 15-year-olds but, like the rest of us, never saw the 13-year-old coming.
NVDL: If you haven't heard of MXIT, please don't start.