Death of GA or SKSK

It is rare in a lifetime to realize, in real time and in the moment, that a meme is not only fading away, but is withering on the dying vine of communication.  The TDD/TTY — Telecommunication Device for the Deaf/Teletypewriter — dies a little more each day in the Deaf Community.


A TDD is a rudimentary computer — a fancy modem in a big, plastic, housing with a bad display — you hook up to a regular telephone to communicate in Baudot text with another TDD.  When you are done typing, you key in “GA” and that means “Go Ahead” and you type that each time you’re done talking so the other side knows it is their turn to “speak” on the TDD. 

When the text conversation is finished, you type “GA or SK” which means “Go Ahead or Stop Keying.” 

“Stop Keying” means you are finished with the conversation and want to hang up but, to be polite, you aren’t hanging up quite yet and you’re leaving the option open to the other party to continue the conversation or to end the talk with an “SKSK” response — “Stop Keying, Stop Keying” — and if you get that response to “GA or SK” then you would finally respond with “SKSK” indicating you agree the conversation is over and that you will both disconnect.

That’s sort of a hoary way to communicate because you’re using internal communication dyads that are based on politeness and convenience rather than rigid assumptions.  Some people don’t type “GA” so you don’t know if they’re done speaking or not and sometimes “SKSK” never makes it into the conversation because one side just hangs up. 

TDD communication is sloppy and unkind — but, for two decades, GA or SK were the vital Deaf memes that enabled one to carry on a long distance conversation.

Today, GA and SK are as foreign to young Deaf kids as going over to a person’s house unannounced to chat was to their parents because that was the only way the Deaf could communicate in a non-electrical age.

Kids set the trends that ultimately determine the standard and in the Deaf Community, the new standard for communication is the cellphone and SMS — no GA or SKSK necessary.  A few years ago, pagers were the rage, then Sidekicks — but they have both been replaced by iPhones and Blackberrys on the road and Video Phones at home. 

With the assumption of Cochlear Implants, the young Deaf are trying their best to self-mainstream and join the “Hearing World” — as unwitting, perpetual, junior members-in-waiting — and to meet that hopeful end, some use their voices on the cellphone while others just use data to surf the web and to send SMS messages and check email.

The tricksy thing about the TDD is not just that you had to have a TDD, but so too, did the person on the other end of the phone.

Modern technology is equipment agnostic.  Email doesn’t care how you access it.  SMS doesn’t care if you’re on the loathsome AT&T or the elite Verizon.  The web doesn’t care if you’re using a Nokia or a Blackberry.

Technology — once the great punisher of the Deaf — has now become the Deaf Community’s “Great Equalizer” for standardized, non-prejudicial, equal access to common comms — and we’ll all join the second line in the parade to the graves of GA to SKSK. 

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