Goodbye, operator

Pardon me for making this an age thing, but I talk to a lot of users, and while everybody “gets” the internet, and cell phones, and even GPS navigation for their car (if they can afford it), there’s a whole bunch of people over 30 who have never sent or received a text message.

So I just had to write this. For anyone still dialing 411 on their phone — and getting charged up the kazoo — or calling movie theaters to get showtimes, or even leaving short voicemails that have to be listened to and dealt with and deleted, listen up:

Text is now a verb.

Got text? I have a couple of friends who don’t have text messaging on their mobile plan. They get charged even if they unwittingly receive a message. Do yourself a favor and call your mobile provider. Like, yesterday.

The thing is, text is civilized. It’s quick. It’s efficient. It promotes good manners. It can even be hot if you do it right.

If you don’t yet know how to send a text message, I promise you it’s built into your phone. Look for the “messages” menu or something like it. Some phones call it by its proper name, SMS, which stands for “short message service.” SMS is a protocol built into all modern cell-phone networks, though it can also be used from some websites or to send an email.

Hey, for kicks, try that last bit. Send a text message to your own email. Then you’ll know your phone’s email address. That could come in handy.

Now the part where I save you time and money: Send the word “help” (no quotes) to the number 46645. That’s GOOGLE, and the great Goog in the sky will send you back a short set of instructions for using its SMS-based info service. If you send “m 78229” you’ll get movie showtimes in your area. “W 78204” will get you the weather. “Pizza 78209” is a beautiful thing. And by the way, if you first send “location 78209,” well by gum, you won’t have to type your zip code each time. Killer.

Now I blow your mind: “2*8” will return “16” and if you send “15 miles in kilometers” you’ll see “24.14016 kilometers,” which, by the way, works in a Google search, too.

“T” is for “translate.” I sent “t por supuesto from spanish to english” (caps unnecessary), and within seconds got “by all means.”

I update my Twitter feed by text. I can send “dinner with Michael 7pm tomorrow” to 48638 (GVENT) and it will add that event to my Google calendar, which in turn synchronizes via Plaxo and fairly quickly makes its way to my phone.

Finally, this tip isn’t about messaging, but you should call 800-466-4411 right now. That’s 800-GOOG-411. Free information, powered by Google. No ads, yet. Speak clearly, and Google’s friendly robot will connect you to the business of your choice.

So may I request that the phone company not send the big yellow book to my house anymore? I’m covered.

Jonathan Marcus publishes online at


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