Last week, we revealed that SMS is the most common form of phone-based communication in the UK. Its popularity is a worldwide phenomenon, though. (Around 700 billion texts were sent in China in 2007; individual U.S. subscribers send more than 500 a month).
But why? We’ve got email, Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Skype – a myriad of much more sophisticated tools to use.
Yet it’s plain old text messaging that gets the love.
In part, that’s because it’s the lowest common denominator. Everyone’s phone is capable of text messaging. It’s also very cheap in a lot of countries: it doesn’t need a data provision and is often bolted onto contracts as a ‘free’ extra.
But there’s more science to it than that. According to Internet psychologist Graham Jones, it’s about the way we classify different ways of sending messages.
For many, email is associated with business and more formal communications. Social networks, on the other hand, are associated with broadcasting messages to larger groups of friends or complete strangers.
So that leaves text. It’s uniquely personal and almost always about one-to-one communication with people that we have a relationship with. There can’t be many people who haven’t typed “miss u. wish u were here” into their phone at some point.
“Text messaging remains a functional communication tool, but still with a personal aspect, which could explain its longevity. You can say things in text you wouldn’t necessarily say on another communication tool.”
A second attraction is that you can normally expect a swift response to a text message, whereas it’s OK to leave responding to an email for a few hours (or days…)
It’s also about our instinctive laziness. We want to do everything in the easiest possible way.
“Running in the back of the human mind,” Jones explained, “is the need to do everything with the least possible effort, and we instinctively search for the easiest way to communicate. This is why we rely on and still love text messaging.”
Nearly all of us still text regularly despite the many alternatives. Do you have any other ideas about why people like it so much?