I don’t understand high volume text messaging

April 23, 2009 | By | 9 Replies More

I know this is a dramatic example from Yahoo News.  I’m not trying to paint with  a brush that’s too wide:

Their thumbs sure must be sore. Two central Pennsylvania friends spent most of March in a text-messaging record attempt, exchanging a thumbs-flying total of 217,000. For one of the two, that meant an inches-thick itemized bill for $26,000.

I understand email.  I understand a text message here and there.  I don’t

Image by eron_gpsfs at Flickr (creative commons)

Image by eron_gpsfs at Flickr (creative commons)

understand the allure of volume texting personal updates to friends (any more than a dozen per day).  And, yes, I don’t understand the allure of Twitter (and see here).

Not everyone is like these record-setters, but our society is now filled with people who are truly obsessed with communicating in micro-messages.  Many parents are concerned that their children aren’t developing traditional conversational skills. It really seems like quantity over quality.  Or is it insecurity: the need to be reassured that someone exists on the other end and cares enough about your almost-mindless phrase that they reciprocate with their own almost-mindless phrase?    If you care about someone, why not join them for a face-to-face conversation, or call them on a phone and have a real conversation, or video-Skype them (a truly remarkable and free service which I recently discovered)?

Are people becoming afraid that they won’t be able to string more than a few sentences together?  That they won’t be able to conversationally perform under the pressure of the moment?  Why the rampant preference for conversationus interruptus?

In my experience, most of the important things in life cannot be said in a short burst of words, and quantity cannot make up for quality.  But maybe I’m just old fashioned.

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Category: American Culture, Communication, Community, computers, Networking

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (9)

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  1. Erika Price says:

    I can see the allure of text-messaging, and even twittering (tweeting). The ability to transmit information without all the waste of social chit-chat niceties really appeals to the no-nonsense introvert in me. The news media will naturally draw out the instances where the technology goes awry, and teenagers will always find new ways to pervert technological advances (see the new trend of "sexting").

    Me, I won't throw the bathwater out with the baby that splashes in it. There are many instances where I want to quickly ask a question or pass on a piece of information to someone, but I either a) don't want to get into a lengthy phone call with them, or b) don't want to disturb them during work or class. Texting does the job perfectly.

    And OK, twitter is totally purposeless, but it can provide an interesting venue to announce website updates, the scheduling of a concert/other event, and keep in touch with followers (if you are a web celebrity) or followees (if you obsess over certain internet presences). Also, twitter's main demographic of devoted users is 22-40 years old (see here. To me, this suggests that the site will have a bizarre staying power, as it is not dominated solely by fickle teens.

  2. Adam says:

    Well, text messaging is a much less demanding way of staying in touch with someone. When you're having a phone conversation with someone, you have to be pretty engaged for a long period of time, and have to officially "end" conversations. With texts, you can exchange thoughts at whatever pace works for you. Thus, it's very easy to, say, have a text message conversation while you're doing homework, but virtually impossible to have a phone conversation and do homework at the same time.

    Twitter, on the other hand, is broadcasting your thoughts out into the cosmos, so I don't really understand it as much (although I think it's useful means of communication if only because lots of other people rely on it, including reporters).

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Erika: Why not email instead of texting? Is it because many people don't have full email capability on their phones (because most people don't have smart phones), but they DO have texting capability?

    Is it because the phone companies charge massive amounts for little text messages (I heard that it can be 20 cents per text message, and that many people run up texting bills of hundreds of dollars in a month) whereas on my smart phone there is no charge for an email? Thus, little incentive for phone companies to give users access to their email accounts on their phones?

    It texting so popular because it is the ONLY way for many people with cell phones to send a written message (rather than calling)?

    I understand that Twitter gives you broadcast ability you don't get with texting or emailing, but it just doesn't seem to be the sort of thing I'd care about doing more than a couple times a day, at most. But maybe that's because I have access to a website and most people don't (not that Twittering typically involves the longer sorts of writings that you'll find here at DI).

  4. Tony Coyle says:

    A little known fact about texting.

    The messages are 160 bytes (characters) or less because that's how much spare capacity there is/was in network control packets. (your phone exchanges such packets with the cell towers every few seconds to few minutes, depending on your activity, and which technology your phone applies [GSM, CDMA, TDMA, etc])

    In other words – they don't use any more bandwidth, they don't require significant changes to infrastructure, and they don't cost the phone companies any real money (the routing is insignificant).

    So why are texts so expensive?

  5. Erika Price says:

    Erich: Most people still don't have smartphones, and I think there is still a slightly higher level of formality to writing an email versus firing off a text. The use of email to convey short bits of information would become cumbersome, I think, as it would fill up an inbox pretty quickly.

    I find text messages especially useful in conveying quick, housekeeping-related pieces of information. Yesterday, someone broke into my roommate's car and stole a few electronics. One of the other roommates sent a text message to inform her of the situation. When she arranged to have a glass company come by while she was gone to replace her window, she texted all of the housemates so we wouldn't be alarmed that some stranger was rifling through her car. It would have been a bit more arduous for her to call everyone and repeat the same information several times, especially in a quickly-developing situation. Plus, most of us where at work or in class and couldn't take a proper call.

    I will agree with you on one big point, Erich: text messages can be a gargantuan waste of money. This applies threefold for individuals without text message plans- they have to endure the incessant texts of their friends, and often end up having to pay for an unlimited texting rate just so they don't have to worry about having to pay for incoming messages they cannot control. The big problem with all of this is that texting doesn't cost the cell companies a cent.

  6. Pat Whalen says:

    The question became of interest to me since most of communication is out of country. E-mail, no additional cost to anyone anywhere in the word. Text message, complex rate structure based on where its going.

    Other than the phone companies gouging us does this make any sense to anyone else?

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    How many text messages does the average teenager send each day? The NYT has the answer:

    Spurred by the unlimited texting plans offered by carriers like AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the Nielsen Company — almost 80 messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/26/health/26teen.h

    Let's assume that it takes 5 minutes to get back on task after breaking one's concentration by sending a text message. 80 times a day times 5 minutes = more than five hours of unfocused time. Unless those teens aren't doing anything important in the first place (e.g., homework, volunteer work, learning to play an instrument). It's my guess that teens who text 80 times each day aren't getting much of importance done. And keep in mind that 80 is the average, meaning that half of the teens are texting more than 80 times per day.

  8. Laydee says:

    what about people who have text packages for unlimited but NEVER have actual minutes for their phone? I have several friends like that, one of them is my sons father and he lives three states away so when I need to ask question or have a parental conversation with him I text. He doesn't have a home phone.. Honestly, in this days age not as many people have them so they rely on their cell's. Texting is very convenient.
    I havent been out of my teen years very long, as I'm only 22 but as a teen I didn't text (I wasn't allowed to have a cell unless I could pay for it.) However, I am a strong believer of there is a time and place for everything and teens aren't very good at distinguishing when to or when not too. But if you are a regular texter you know how soon they add up. And I don't recall it ever taking 5 minutes for me to recoup after sending a message. I think it has to do with the person and it's not really fair to lump texters into one category. Thats the problem with these articles. There are more than two sides to every story.

  9. Ron Upshaw says:

    Texting is the wave of the future, so as the saying goes, you can lead, follow or get out of the way.

    Text messages are an unobtrusive way to communicate information. Texts can be short and sweet. They they can contain phone numbers and links to websites to direct recipients to info sources.

    Text message language doesn't have to be perfect, whereas some people will go to great length to make sure their emails are perfect, costing them time and money.

    Many people prefer texting over emailing because data plans for web capable phones are more expensive than text message plans.

    Even businesses and organizations can engage in text messaging systems for customer rewards, and alerts and notifications. I should know, being a Regional Acct Mgr for a text message marketing company in Lubbock, TX.

    Emails and text msgs have their own pros and cons, but a big advantage of text messaging over email is that using an industry compliant system, SPAMing is not possible, and msg recipients are ALWAYS in control.

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