semaphoreWe all know that teens love to text. But a fad sweeping the nation has teens putting down their cell phones and picking up flags. Signals by semaphore flag are quickly replacing texting as a chosen form of communication among teens and young adults.

Flag semaphore, historically used for marine communication in the 19th century, involves flags of red and yellow arranged in different positions to indicate a letter or number. It is still used in marine settings when all other communication is down. And now, it is used by teens who want to be up on the latest cool trends. The following semaphore signals say “lol”:





“People think that you can’t use the flags the way you can text,” said Brandon Worth, a 19-year-old University of Washington sophomore. “Like, how could you flag someone far away, like you can text them? But the thing is, you just record yourself using them and then send the video to your friend. So it’s kind of like texting, it’s just more visual. It’s like art and communication at the same time.”

Health advisory panels have embraced the trend, noting that teens and young adults today often fall short of recommended physical activity levels. “Using flag semaphore to say ‘U want to go out l8r’ burns 8 calories,” said Hope Hana, a nutritionist in Washington, D.C. “It doesn’t sound like much, but it really adds up. If teens replaced all texting with flag semaphore, they’d burn approximately 6,000 calories a day.” Skechers is working to produce weighted flags that will build upper body strength while teens communicate. Meanwhile, flag semaphore continues to catch on like wildfire.

“Everybody texts,” said 15-year-old Amanda Hollins. “But only the really cool kids have flags.” The teen proudly displayed the red-and-yellow flags stashed in her backback. Amanda admits that she has gotten in trouble for using flag semaphore at the table. “I was trying to use them to tell my ex-boyfriend that he’s a jerkface, but one of my flags knocked over the mashed potatoes and mom said no flags at the table. Which is totally unfair! Maybe if my family was as interesting as my friends, I wouldn’t need to use flags at the table. But, no, it’s always ‘Oh, how was your day?’ or ‘Oh, how are your friends?’ And then I’m supposed to care how my mom’s day was. She’s an aeronautical engineer, I know how her day was, it was boring. You know how I know?” She proceeded to comment on this unrelated topic for more than twenty more minutes.

A record number of teens are also being disciplined at nearby schools for flagging during class. “It’s really hard to do it without getting caught,” admits Jocelin Garcia, a 16-year-old from Seattle, WA. “The teacher turned around to get something and I wanted to flag semaphore my friend ‘omg this class rly sux’, but she turned around again before I got to the ‘g’.” Jocelin’s school is considering banning flags from the classroom altogether; or, if teens need flags for emergencies, keeping them tightly rolled and rubber-banded at all times.

Some researchers are worried about the effect of constant flagging on the developing teen brain. “Adolescent brains are made to look at text messages on screens,” said Dr. Sarah Abed of Syracuse University, “Not to look at red and yellow squares and decode what they say. Teens are going to lose their skills at text-based interactions, if this trend continues, which has worrying implications for the future.”

And, if you’ve read this far… Happy April Fools’ Day! As far as we know, flag semaphore not been picked up as the new trend… although we know truth is stranger than fiction…


*Thanks to Creative Commons for allowing me to use this image, and thanks to Debs Gardner for the creative Photoshopping.