Postcards from the edge of a texting dilemma

19th September 2003 at 01:00
I have discovered the joy of text. I am a grown-up with a fairly agile brain, but I have managed to avoid the need to use a mobile phone (except for emergencies) for the past few years. I do possess a mobile, or "brick" as my family calls it. I take it with me to conferences so that school can contact me if someone has a funny turn. Of course I don't switch it on, so I only hear about the problem when I get back and someone else has solved it. This is a style of management called deferred delegation, or subconscious amnesia. It works for me.

However, when my mother had a stroke during the last week of term and I had to travel from Plymouth to Derbyshire twice in three days, I began to appreciate the speed of communication the text message gives. After a short lesson from my daughter, I sent brief messages to my sister to check on Mum's progress, to give her updates on train delays and to send words of reassurance.

Mum is still poorly. I'm back home and ready to return at a moment's notice. I still send a message to my sister every day. I think hard about the words to keep the message short, but still attaching importance to the emotions and tone. And I love the first button with all those amazing punctuation marks. I try to use as many brackets and exclamations as possible.

During summer, newspapers published pieces about the demise of the tradition of sending postcards. People are sending text messages instead.

But surely writing a postcard is an entirely different skill? Isn't there an expectation about what you write on a postcard? The state of the weather, the accommodation, the food, the company? Isn't a text message a spur of the moment note to make immediate contact? These are very different approaches to communication.

I favour the football result-style of postcard writing, although you can only use it once as the novelty value for the reader will wane. They usually read as follows: sunburnt noses 2; midge bites 6; dodgy curries 1; fish and chips 2; seals 3; godwits 1; wet days 4; sunny days 1; burst tyres 1; AA men 1.

As literacy co-ordin8tor, I see how this concept could form a series of lessons on communication skills. The challenge would be to compose a postcard and a text message to the same person giving the same news in a different format. You'd set the scene and then teach the benefit of both means of communication and the different techniques used. Teaching children to write postcards would be a life skill. Teaching them to send text messages would be like teaching grandma to suck eggs. But I see the advantages of trying. And it would be fun.

The problem with sending a text message is the expectation of an answer. At least, with a postcard, you just post it and forget about it.

Val Woollven is head of St Andrew's C of E primary, Plymouth

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