How texting has changed our conversations

When United Kingdom engineer Neil Papworth sent the world's first SMS -- short message service -- text message on December 3, 1992, he had no clue his "Merry Christmas" greeting would start a trend that would become part of both revolutions and basic teen conversations.

But 20 years and millions of smartphones later, what was intended to be a tool for brief statements has become the medium that kicks off the day's conversations even before most people are awake.

"Even when most of us are asleep, young adults' smartphones continue buzzing from inbound texts. In fact, 37 percent of 18- to 24-year-old smartphone owners receive texts at 4 in the morning," reads a summary of a recent Experian Simmons national consumer study.

The survey of approximately 25,000 U.S. adults used data from a mobile panel that collects information directly from 1,485 smartphones. The study is accredited by the New York-based nonprofit Media Rating Council, formed by Congress in 1964 to ensure accuracy in measurement services.

Additional data tracking the increased usage of texts over the decades reveals other messaging trends.

The number of yearly text messages sent in the U.S. skyrocketed from 240.8 billion in June 2007 to 2.27 trillion by June of this year, according to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group.

The jump was likely due to a surge in use among young adults. Fifty-nine percent of all adults and 85 percent of adults ages 18 to 24 use their phone to text during a typical week, according to the Experian Simmons study.

Its most surprising revelations came from consumers' shifting attitudes toward the importance of a text message, said Bill Tancer, Experian Marketing Services' general manager of research.

"One of the most interesting points we found was that among 18-to-34-year-olds, 48 percent said having a text conversation is as meaningful as a phone call.

"I think in the past text was a way of getting a burst of information to someone to get a quick response. Today I think it's starting to act like a medium of conversation," said Tancer.

Meanwhile, texting has also cut the number of young people who actually still talk on the phone. Smartphone owners ages 18-24 send and receive approximately 3,852 texts per month, but only take part in 183 phone calls.

Less phone usage increases with age: Those between 25 to 34 years old send and receive 2,240 texts per month and participate in 190 calls; those 35-44 send 1,557 texts and engage in 215 calls; and those ages 55 and up send and receive 491 texts and take part in 158 calls.

Still, there's little reason to believe the ordinary phone call will ever be eliminated, said Alan Black, associate professor of language technologies at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

"Phone calls are still useful for longer interactions, conversations involving negotiations or other long discussions. I think the short phone calls we used to have -- calling to tell someone, 'I'm ready, you can pick me up' -- will be eliminated. But I think phone calls will actually end up being longer because people will only call someone when they want to have a longer conversation."

Just as text won't actually upend the phone call, free means of message sending such as Facebook Chat won't take the place of texting, according to the report. Although alternative instant message service are a fast-growing favorite among web-savvy young users, the Experian Simmons study shows only 8 percent of all mobile adults use their phones for instant messaging or other chat services.

Print this article Back to Top