Andrew Cabrera has thumbed his way to New York. His trip didn’t involve sketchy rides or standing alongside the road in the rain, though.
The Marco Island teen and his mother were flown to New York City earlier this week for an all-expenses-paid trip, because Andrew qualified for the finals of the LG U.S. National Texting Championship. Based on his speed sending text messages, he has already aced the quarterfinals and the semifinals, and is now one of a dozen contestants, plus last year’s top finisher, to literally go “mano a mano” to earn the bragging rights as the fastest texter in the country. Oh, and the top prize of $50,000 in cash.
Cabrera, 17, is dual-enrolled as a senior at Lely High School and also taking classes at Edison State College. He heard about the contest via commercials on MTV, he said, where viewers were given 15 seconds to text a message shown on the television to gain a spot as a contestant. Last year, he made the quarterfinals, which like the semis, are conducted online.
So how does one build the speed to be a world-class text messager? Practice, practice, practice. Andrew says he averages 15,000 text messages a month, which kind of begs the question what does someone have to say 500 times a day, every day, on average.
“I know, it sounds kinda crazy,” he said. “I text a lot to my friends and, believe it or not, to my parents. It’s mostly out of convenience.” He got his first cell phone at age 12, said Cabrera.
“Text wasn’t a big thing. I sent maybe 100 to 200 a month.” But at age 14, “I became an active texter. Now, on a good day, I can do five characters a second,” with 100 percent accuracy. Yes, said Andrew, he texts at school, “but I’ve only ever been caught one time.” He does not, he said, text while driving.
LG, the electronics manufacturer, is sponsoring the contest to promote their new Android-based smart phone, the Doubleplay. Not yet available for sale, the device features a slide-out physical keyboard split down the middle by a second touch screen, in addition to the touch screen that makes up the entire face of the phone.
LG sent a Doubleplay to each of the finalists, and that will be the phone each uses for the competition. “I’ve never seen a phone like it before,” said Andrew. He used his iPhone in the qualifying rounds, he said, and has to look when he texts, due to it using a virtual keyboard on a touch screen.
“Andrew has proved he has some of the fastest fingers in Florida,” said LG assistant account excecutive Brandon Masters. Now he’s “on a quest to prove that he has the fastest fingers in the nation.” He called the LG Doubleplay “the ultimate texting device.” Actually, Cabrera said, he does it all with just his thumbs.
Showing just how tech-forward the contest is, LG set up a Facebook group for first the semifinalists, and then another for the finalists, so Cabrera has been texting back and forth with his fellow contestants, as he prepares for the big showdown. The group ranges in age from 14 to 26, he said, and three of the 12 come from Florida.
Cabrera and his mother, Alicia Cushman, a Realtor with the Remax Caruso team on Marco, flew to New York on Monday, had dress rehearsal Tuesday, and play for real today. They will fly home Thursday, “unless I win – then I stay through Saturday,” said Andrew.
The contestants will face tests including the Text Blitz, Text in the Dark round, and “Txet sdrawkcab,” or backwards texting, sure to challenge even these “titans of text.” Since they will be staying in lower Manhattan, Andrew figures they’ll have a chance to visit the Ground Zero memorial, and maybe even stop by the Occupy Wall Street park, New York’s latest tourist attraction.
In addition to the $50,000 grand prize, cash in the amounts of $10,000, $5,000, $2,500, $1,000 and $500 will also be awarded. And Andrew, who spent the summer as an intern in a NYC photography studio, is getting to take his mom to the city in any event, without her having to pay, so he’s already won.
Thumbs up, Andrew! You never know what skills will come in “handy.”