Send it like Beckham

Observations on text messaging

The "Becks text sex scandal", despite sounding like a Swedish tongue-twister, has some other points of interest. (For those just back from Mars, we are talking about stories that David Beckham, the footballer, has been exchanging dirty messages on his mobile phone with alleged lovers.) Texting is a relatively new form of communication and because we tend to abbreviate when we send messages in this way, it is easy to get confused about meaning. Like the shorthand used by journalists and secretaries, words are cut down to some common sounds, leaving out many vowels and some consonants. So "wd sx be ok" could be an arrangement to meet someone at six o'clock, or a text about sexual acts. Similarly, "Ars did it again, xclnt 2 b thr at such gr8 momnt" could be a reference to a sexual act illegal in many countries, or a comment on the football results.

Textual relations were the next logical step after phone sex, which presumably took off after STD stopped operators listening in on calls. Messages sent straight to your mobile, which can only be accessed by the owner, and the capacity to set the phones to vibrate mode, are the perfect way to have an affair without the guilt of physical contact.

The idea of a virtual partner has taken off recently on eBay, the internet auction site, with young women selling their services as e-girlfriends and sending successful bidders regular sexy text messages, e-mails and digital photos. The trouble with e-mails, though, as several people have found out to their chagrin, is that these innermost thoughts, when committed to your computer screen, can be sent to thousands of people around the world with the mere click of a mouse. Text messages, on the other hand, are harder to forward. Which is probably fortunate for me. The last one I sent said: "Wn wd you lk me to cum? I am hny." But calm down. It was was merely a message to my mother about meeting for a meal as soon as possible because I was hungry.

This article first appeared in the 19 April 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Get out now