Austin Wierschke is a very well-spoken teenager, but he’d rather use his smartphone to say what’s on his mind. “Texting is the best way of communicating,” the Rhinelander (Wis.) native says. “You think more about what you are going to say, and it delivers your thoughts in clear and beautiful language.”
More importantly for the 17-year-old, texting is a lot more lucrative than speaking. Wierschke won $50,000 on Aug. 8 by capturing his second straight title at LG Electronics’ 2012 U.S. National Texting Championship, an annual competition to find the fastest thumbs in America. When you can text 149 characters in 39 seconds with no spelling or punctuation errors, who needs vocal cords?
Wierschke faced stiff competition en route to his victory in the event, held in a fenced-off area of New York’s Times Square replete with screaming fans, roaring funk music, and fluttering blow-up balloon thumbs. The 11 finalists—most under the age of 19—had advanced from a pool that originally numbered more than 100,000. One by one, more talented hopefuls were eliminated over a series of rounds measuring speed and accuracy through challenges such as transcribing a memorized passage on the phone while blindfolded. Finally, after successfully texting a truly bizarre sequence of disjointed words and computer symbols, Wierschke stood alone.
Impressive, yes, but does this historic achievement render less relevant the classic computer keyboard, which has been a staple of daily existence for those of us born before 1990? To find out, I decided to go head-to-head with Wierschke in a slightly different contest, with me at my iMac desktop (I was once able to type 90 words per minute) and the texting wizard on his trusty dual-screen LG Android, the model every contestant was required to use in the competition.
We were read the same two passages, which we then had to transcribe in real time. The goal was to be as fast and accurate as possible. Naturally, we started with a passage from Jabberwocky, the 19th century Lewis Carroll poem so rife with fabricated words that those unfamiliar with its language must spell them out phonetically:
Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe. Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that snatich! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun the frumious Bandersnatch!
And here, our versions:
Me: “Was brelig in the slithy toads did gire and bible in the raids and the mobe beware the jabberwocky my son the boys that catch the fenrous bender snatch long time the maxim foam.”
Wierschke: “Was brillick in the birar toads all mindsy toads and beware the jabberwock son, i don’t even know what you’re saying lol! Twas brillick or something like that.”
We declared that round a draw and decided to try something in standard English, the Gettysburg Address.
This time I fared moderately better.
Me: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, now we are engaged in a great civil war we are met in a great battlefield we have come to dedicate a portion of that field it is all fitting and proper we cannot consecrate and hallow this ground far above our power to detract the world can never foreget what they say here has thus far so nobly great task increase devotion to that cause we shall highly resolve that these dead should not have died in vein and that a government by the people for the people and of the people shall not perish from the earth”
Wierschke: “4 score and 7 years ago, now we are engaged we are met on the great battle field of war ahh I messed up and now I’m too far behind. the brave men living in dead. This nation under god, shall not perish from the earth”
Wierschke finished about 30 seconds before I did, but I was more accurate with my stodgy desktop keyboard. I declared victory.
To his credit, Wierschke was as modest in (subjective) defeat as he had been in his previous day’s triumph. It helps that he’s now twice proven that he’s the best in the entire nation at the quasi-sport of texting. There are practical benefits as well. Wierschke has already earned a significant portion of his college tuition. And, he adds, “I can text while still looking both ways crossing the street.”