Thursday, August 09, 2012


All sporting eyes may be on London these days, but the what- up/RFLMAO brigade are looking no further than Times Square where, yesterday, our nation’s texters supreme had a Go 4 the Au at the 6th annual LG U.S. National Texting Competition.

Eleven competitors, ranging in age from 16 to 24, vied for the title and, perhaps more important, the $50K grand prize. (What do you make of a sport where the masters’ division starts at 25?)

Wisconsin’s Austin Weirschke pulled something of a Michael Phelps, and won for the second year in a row.

In case you’re no more familiar with the particulars of texting competitions than you are, say, with those of dressage or water polo:

The competition tests three skills: speed, accuracy and dexterity. There are three rounds to the competition: texting while blind-folded, texting with hands behind their backs and Text Blitz, where phrases are shown to the contestants for a length of time and they have to copy it as fast as they can before the next one. (Source:

While no one that I’ve seen is contesting Austin’s win, the contest itself is not without controversy. The source here is the use of physical keyboard, rather than touch screen.

This is no surprise – LG is, after all, the sponsor, and they’re a QWERTY kind of provider. Plus when they started the competition back in the day, there were no smartphones, and texters were all texting on cell phones. (Remember hitting the abc button three times to make it go “c”?) So when LG came through with the slide-out QWERTY keyboard, it was a real breakthrough.

Now, most smartphones use the touchscreen approach. Even the LG phone used in the championship lets you go touchscreen if you want.

LG did include a touchscreen component to last year’s competition, but touchscreen screwed up the flow of the contest, and slowed the contestants down. Speed rules, so this year’s contest went back to pure keyboard.

Thus the LG contest is being pooh-poohed in some quarters. One quarter – not being self-serving or anything like that – is Swiftkey, which makes keyboard software for Android devices that accelerates typing. Their CMO, Joe Braidwood said that:

…he thinks the competition is outdated and joked that "it's like forcing people to ride push scooters when they could have motor bikes. You can't have a modern day race with an old school device." (Source: ABC News.)

And, in fact, the Guinness World Record for fastest text message on earth is held by someone who used Swiftkey-like keyboard software. But to keep things on an even keel:

Currently the Guinness World Records has two records for the fastest text message ever sent -- one for a message sent on a touchscreen and one sent on a phone with a physical keyboard.

I am unlikely to win either one.

I’m a reasonably fast and accurate typist, and a reasonably slow and inaccurate texter.

I use a touchscreen for texting, by the way. When I got my first smartphone a few years back – a Blackberry – I thought at first that I would want the physical keyboard. But when I saw what it looked like, well, push scooter to moped works as an analogy. So does ‘it looked like you were carrying around a typewriter.’ It was too old-school looking even for me. But perhaps I would be a more fluent texter if I did have an old QWERTY physical keyboard to punch around.

As it stands, I find that I really have to pay attention when I text. And paying attention is something that I usually don’t bother to do until after I’ve hit the “send” button and find that the word “head” went through as “dead”. I’m always sending out errata texts “miss” = “loss”, “clown” = “nightgown”.

QWERTY or touchscreen. I’m not apt to win any texting contest.

My typing, though, is pretty okay.

That’s thanks to the touch-typing course I took at Worcester’s Classical High the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in high school. The course mostly entailed monotonous, repetitive typing exercises:

A-S-D-F space Semi-L-K-J

rug jug bug rug jug bug

While I never became a speed typist – you could only go so fast on a manual typewriter before the keys would jam –  this method did get you familiar with the keyboard without having to look at it, and with using all those fingers and thumbs. No hunt and peck for me, my friends. Too bad there’s almost no such thing as transcribing a handwritten manuscript anymore.

While I am a touch typist on a keyboard, I absolutely do need to look at the touchscreen when I’m texting. Perhaps if I were willing to practice more. Perhaps if I treated texting more as a sport. Which, according to LG's Director of Trade and Experiential Marketing, Carl Brown, to his contestants, it is:

"The thing that surprised us the most is how these contestants really look at texting as a sport. They train for it, they recruit texting buddies," Brown said. Turns out texting is more like the Olympic games than we thought.

If you want to congratulate Gold Medalist Austin, you can ping him on the contests FB page.

Ah, the thrill of victory the agony of defeat. (Or, rather the agony of de-thumb.)

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