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Morast: Oakes' texting prodigy

Super-texter Mariah Kelly of Oakes, N.D., shows off her LG Ally phone. Special to The Forum

During a time when the older generations sometimes treat the act of cell phone texting as misunderstood behavior, people are going to gasp at Mariah Kelly's texting habits.

Between her job at a grocery store and the regular lifestyle associated with her duties as a 14-year-old freshman at Oakes (N.D.) High School, Mariah still finds time to send between 500 and 800 text messages a day.

If you're wondering if that's a lot, even for a teen, it is.

According to a 2009 study by Nielsen, the average American teenager sends nearly 80 text messages a day. It doesn't take a math genius to realize Mariah's output is sometimes 10 times the norm.

"I find it crazy that I'm actually considered a 'text addict,' " Mariah says via text, of course.

To some, she's a textaholic. To others, she's a prodigy.

On Sept. 19, Mariah will fly to New York City to compete against 32 other super texters in LG phones' 2010 U.S. National Texting Championships.

More than a unique promotion for the LG brand, the contest is a chance for Mariah to win some serious cash.

Last year's winner, Kate Moore, a then-15-year-old from Iowa who sent 14,000 texts a month, took home $50,000 after proving she was the best texter in events like speed battles, blindfold texting and texting while walking through an obstacle course.

Mariah, who can text five characters a second, beat out 500,000 other texters to make the finals. She's been practicing for the championship on her LG Ally phone - given to all the finalists by the company - by texting the words on restaurant menus and texting with her eyes closed.

At the finals in New York, Mariah says the finalists have to type exactly what is shown to them on a screen. And if the rules are the same as last year, the contestants who are fastest and with no errors move on to the next rounds.

To get a taste of Mariah's texting acumen, the entire interview with her for this column was done by texting.

Part of that was to gauge her speed. But it was also to see how much a texting prodigy uses contemporary shorthand like "lol" or "omg" to communicate.

Purists should be surprised. Mariah has fast response times, and her texts read like (mostly) proper English. She doesn't use texting shorthand and only had a couple minor typing errors in responses that were often several lines long. But considering she was dyeing a friend's hair while doing the interview, I'm inclined to give her a pass on the typos.

"Um, I'm a very grammatical person, and I just prefer to fully type everything out. It's easier to me LOL!" Mariah wrote with irony.

For those who wonder why she or anyone would want to text that much a day, Mariah has an honest answer.

"It's a lot simpler than calling someone and a lot cheaper if (you're) unlimited. Plus a lot more easier to say something you don't have the nerve to say over the phone," she says.

And if you're one of her friends, you'll get texts from Mariah while she's at work - she's never been caught - and sometimes at school - she was caught once, but not punished.

Despite her constant practice on her phone's keyboard, she's nervous about competing in New York. But a more terrifying thought is the idea of not being able to text at all.

"I think I'd probably go into some sort of shock & have text withdrawals," she writes.


Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518 or