Text messaging: it's faster than a call, remains both deeply personal while also practical, and is still the preferred messaging method globally. In the UK, it would seem, it is the preferred communication method, over voice, according to Ofcom's most recent annual communication report. We send a text to say 'I love you', to send reminders, or just to chat. But what are the deeper meanings behind our text habits? How do men and women differ when communicating, why is texting so popular with teens and why do we still love it 20 years after its conception?
The Psychology of SMS study, which was released today by mobile messaging company Acision, has looked at the most common text messaging habits and trends among 2,000 men and women in the UK and US. The study found that men reach out to more contacts than women, and send texts to an average of 17 people regularly, while women only text the same 13 people on average. This doesn't mean men are more social though - actually quite the opposite. It is more likely to be because men are a lot more functional in the kinds of messages they send. They see texting as doing a job, such as letting somebody know where they are, or if they are running late. Unlike women, they often don't want to get into conversations via text, which may explain why they are able to habitually text more people. This is also why women send longer text messages than men - they tend to want to explain themselves a bit more and show signs of wanting to deepen relationships.
Acision's research has also thrown up a few interesting figures around differences in age groups. The older generation seems to continually point out how much young people text, and spend a lot of time on their mobile phones. These beliefs are not unfounded it seems - 94% of 18-35-year-olds regularly use text, and the 18-25 age group sends an average of 19 messages per day, more than double any other age group!
While young people do text more - there can be deeper reasons for this than first meets the eye. Text is a technology 18-25 year olds have grown up with, so they naturally see it as the most normal and direct way of communicating. Children and young people are trying to form their identity and work out who they are and how they fit into society. Teens 30 years ago would phone their friends to socialise and grow up, today they text their friends. The social reasons for communication haven't changed - but the preferred method has. There are also other more practical reasons for young people texting more, for example, my son, who is 12, will happily sit and text with one thumb whereas I text with my forefinger, as do a lot of older people. This can affect how easy these age groups find texting and therefore how often they do it.
Text messaging is likely to remain popular for years to come. Aside from the fact that it is available to anyone with any mobile phone, it is also very reliable - people trust that a text message will get through once it has been sent. Text messages are also more instant than social networks such as Facebook. Part of the reason we check text messages so frequently, is the frame of mind we are in. People only send text messages for things that are current and in the moment. Facebook is more likely to be used for the things that don't need instant responses and to share experiences, but our reaction to a text message is to deal with it here and now.
Jorgen Nilsson (CEO of Acision) summed it up perfectly when stating his belief that "text messaging will continue to be the most trusted, most popular platform around the world for a long time to come."
My prediction is that text messaging will actually become more popular because it is so straightforward. Other instant messaging services such as Skype and Whatsapp may be growing in popularity, and people love to experiment, but the simplicity of text is highly attractive. Running in the back of the human mind is the need to do everything with the least possible effort, and we instinctively search for the easiest way to communicate. Text messaging is a classic example of this. This year marked the 20th anniversary of SMS and it still remains the most popular mobile service in the world today. Somewhat strange when the tech industry always claims that new technology will replace the old and for the better - we are still waiting for that paperless office we were promised 30 years ago. But some things, such as SMS, are simply universal. This is why we still rely on and still love SMS.