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Text messaging: Shakespeare of the 21st Century

Diana Forbes | Interrobang | News | November 28th, 2005

A cell phone company in the United Kingdom has given classic Cliff Notes a technological makeover.

Dot Mobile, a new cell phone service aimed at college and university students in the UK, have condensed plot lines and significant quotes into text format. For example, Hamlet's “To be or not to be that is the question” is reduced to 2B? NT2B=???.

The service, which will be available in January 2006, was developed to help English students study for exams and to better understand complex literary works.

Dot Mobile said the instant popularity of text messaging has been blamed for the falling standards of literacy among young people, but their new texting format will now be regarded as a valuable learning tool.

Literary classics like Romeo and Juliet, Paradise Lost, Pride and Prejudice and Lord of the Flies have all been abbreviated so subscribers can access the texts on their cell phone screens.

By April 2006 the complete works of Shakespeare and Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales will be available in text format.

“I don't see how it could hurt, but it's always better to go to the original text,” said Dana Morningstar, Coordinator of the Corporate Communications and Public Relations Ontario Graduate Certification program at Fanshawe. Morningstar also teaches classes in popular culture at Fanshawe.

However, she is concerned with the condensed version overshadowing the original. Morningstar used the example of the popular children's tale Peter Pan and the fact that most of today's children are more familiar with the updated Disney version, rather than the original by Sir James M. Barrie.

“The complexity of the language is not there,” she said. “I might be worried about this becoming the only version available.”

John Sutherland, a retired Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London and Chairman of this year's Man Booker prize, developed the service with Dot Mobile.

“The educational opportunities it offers are immense- texting, in the hands (or, more precisely, the thumbs) of a proficient user can not merely archive vast stores of material, it can boil that material down its most manageable base elements,” Sutherland said in a press release.

“I would see this text messaging less as making fun of the works and more of an homage to the original,” Morningstar said.

Dot Mobile has launched this service in 90 pre-selected Universities across the UK and users can manage their accounts online by selecting which piece of literature they would like delivered.

Other literary works that will become available are Charles Dickens' Bleak House, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and Charlotte Bronte's Jayne Eyre.
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