Social Question

tom_g's avatar

Can someone explain texting?

Asked by tom_g (16630points) August 4th, 2011

(This is probably one of those old man, “get off my lawn” questions)

Can someone please explain what the appeal is to texting? Why do people do it, and why hasn’t it gone the way of the pager?

In a time where everyone has smartphones, what is the advantage of texting over email? It can’t be the speed – email is instant and just as fast as a text. Texting also costs money.

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45 Answers

JilltheTooth's avatar

As an old person for the purposes of this Q who has just started texting because my smartphone makes it easy, I find texting better than email for sending bits of info quickly. The people to whom I text know right away (or the minute their phone is turned on) that a message is waiting without having to open their email account. I have an account that has unlimited texting which, yes, costs money, but the convenience out weighs the modest expense in my case.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

It is just another way of communicating without having to look someone in the eye. ;)

tom_g's avatar

@JilltheTooth: “The people to whom I text know right away (or the minute their phone is turned on) that a message is waiting without having to open their email account.”

Actually, this is what I mentioned in my question. Email is at least as fast if not faster. You don’t have to open your email app on a smartphone to know if you have an email. You instantly get the email notification. Instant as in < 2 seconds.

Blackberry's avatar

It’s an alternative to talking on the phone. The wife can send the message, “Get milk on your way home, please.” And the husband doesn’t have to hear his wife’s voice, everyone wins (lol, just kidding).

Email and text are pretty much the same speed, and a lot of smartphones have email on them, but why would you send an email to tell someone you’re on the way? I think texting started as an alternative to tell someone quick information instead of calling them when they could be busy or have their hands full.

The problem now is that people like to have full conversations through text. I’ve met people my age that don’t even like to talk on the phone now for any unimportant reason. I met a woman and we did all the introductory talking (that is usually on the phone) through text. I really wonder why that is, is talking on the phone old fashioned now or what?

tom_g's avatar

@Blackberry: “but why would you send an email to tell someone you’re on the way?”

Yeah, I guess that’s what I am trying to understand. Why wouldn’t someone send an email? What advantage does the text (not free) have?

Seelix's avatar

I’m not a phone person – that is, I’m not the type to chat on the phone with anyone aside from my parents, now that I don’t live in the same city as they do.

I use text messages because they’re fast and easy, and I can get or send the information I need without all the small talk involved. It’s advantageous to email because I don’t have a data plan with my phone – that is, I can’t access the internet from it unless I’m at home or in a wifi hotspot. Also, like others have said, as long as your phone is turned on, it’s ready to instantly receive texts and notify you of them, and that’s not always the case with email.

When I was shopping for a phone, the best plan for me included unlimited texting – even if that hadn’t been included, it was still the cheapest option because it allows for unlimited talk to 5 phone numbers. Because I’m not a chatter, it was perfect – I can still talk to my parents anytime I want, and I have a set number of minutes I can use each month for any other phone business I have. Texting for me is free – email is not.

Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, but I don’t know anyone under 40 whose phone plans don’t include unlimited texting.

JilltheTooth's avatar

Well, then, hell, I dunno. Maybe on my smartphone it’s easier to text than to open my email account to send one. I can just do it, I don’t have to navigate the Internet to ask my daughter what time she’s coming over.

Blackberry's avatar

@tom_g Oh, that is because (which surprises me) many people still don’t have some form of smartphone lol, but the oldest phones can still text. I have what is considered an ancient smartphone, and I can still email with that, but some still have those flip phones, for example.

Blackberry's avatar

@JilltheTooth Smartphones have email apps lol. We’re not talking about the email you need a browser for :)

tom_g's avatar

@Seelix – That makes sense. You don’t have a data plan. In the US, you are not allowed to not have a data plan with a smartphone. I’m curious about people here in the US that already have a data plan. I would’ve imagined texting to be gone by now. Maybe it’s just that some people still have flip phones?

JilltheTooth's avatar

OK, all else aside (cuz I’m getting educated here notice I did not say “shot down” at every turn) the display of the text messages on my iPhone is just plain cuter than an email display! Refute that subjective statement, you nay sayers! ;-)

Blackberry's avatar

@Seelix Oh yeah, the data plan. That makes sense now. I think that’s what it is @tom_g. Some people also have smartphones, but the data plans are an extra 20 to 30 dollars.

tom_g's avatar

@JilltheTooth – Didn’t consider the cute factor. Damn. Maybe the cute factor is driving the zillion-dollar texting industry.

Seelix's avatar

@tom_g – Wow, really? I didn’t know that data plans were part-and-parcel in the US. Okay, so I guess it makes a ton of sense for some Canucks to prefer text over email, if we’re cheap and don’t want to spring for a data plan. But if it were required? I don’t know whether I’d abandon texting.

redfeather's avatar

I hate talking on the phone. I wish I could text doctors and get appointments and stuff. I think it’s less intrusive. Last night I watched TV with my dad for an hour and we were watching some weird show called One Man Army and I was able to joke and talk with him, while having a conversation with my best friend. I couldn’t do that if I was on the phone. I also don’t really use email to talk to my friends. I really only use email for work or school things.

tom_g's avatar

@redfeather – Very interesting. This is exactly what I’m getting at and would love to know more about….

@redfeather: “I wish I could text doctors and get appointments and stuff. I think it’s less intrusive.”

The verb “text” in this sentence rings strange to someone old like me. What about the verb “email”. I’m trying to figure out what makes “text” the default alternative to talking for some most people.

@redfeather: “I also don’t really use email to talk to my friends. I really only use email for work or school things.”

I’d love to hear more here. Is it the separation of worlds (email as a database of work/school things)? What about a separate email account? Gmail and all of the world-separating features? What makes texting the preferred communication method over email for friends?

redfeather's avatar

Why email my friends when I could send them a Facebook message? I think I have 4 or 5 of my friend’s email addresses and, stand by, let me check, 249 friends. It’s just easier than logging into my email, I find. Plus I like to keep my email separate from friends. I don’t want to miss any potentially important email among my friends sending me emails with pictures of cats in costumes. And I already have three email accounts. One for things I’ve signed up for that’s really old, a work one, and a school one. I wouldn’t add another for friends when I have Facebook and texting to keep up with them

ucme's avatar

Something else I can’t think of at the moment….....

LuckyGuy's avatar

People text when they want to look like they are doing something else like: work, participating in a meetings, listening in class….driving.

I rarely text. Nothing I do is so critical that an immediate is response is needed. If you need an answer from me, call.

The answer is either, “It needs a little more salt.” or “I’m here now. I will be there soon.”

JLeslie's avatar

I just got a smartphone a few months ago. Prior to that I did not have email on my phone. In fact, I do not use my email on my phone, I don’t want it there. I get all sorts of spam shit on my email, and I don’t want it flooding into my phone, I am not constantly on my phone. I did have to open a gmail account to set up my phone, but I do not give out that account at all. So, if you want to send me a note, better to text me. You can send me a note on facebook too, but then I feel more like it is out there on the web. Just how I feel. Plus, my facebook app does not always work well, but texting I almost never have trouble with.

tom_g's avatar

Fascinating. I’m getting the impression from some of you that email is not preferred because email is not a big part of your life. @JLeslie doesn’t like or use it. @redfeather uses email just for school and work.
Love to hear more. It’s really interesting.

JLeslie's avatar

@tom_g I use email regularly on my computer.

JLeslie's avatar

Email addresses are given out to everything I do online as part of the sign up or pay process, etc. Sometimes something I do inadvertently starts a stream of spam emails. I do my best never to allow it to happen, but it does. Pisses me off. I don’t want to have to delete all that in my phone and my computer.

But, you said texting costs extra, most people have unlimted texting in the states, not everyone has internet access or smart phones as I mentioned above. My mom doesn’t have a smart phone, either does a couple of my best friends. I was just talking to my husband that possibly after this contract is up, I will get rid of my web access on my phone.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I really don’t use email for much of anything anymore. It just isn’t necessary. I use it now for professional interactions, and to talk to one aunt. Otherwise? I forget to even check it once a week.
But, I have been texting forever, it’s quick and convenient… and I hate talking on the phone, so texting has always appealed to me. I hated talking on the phone before texting was an option.

_zen_'s avatar

Where I am – and I’m sure this is true for Europe and the States too, not everyone has internet based cell-phones. So texting doesn’t necessarily equal email. Texting costs money – but there are all kinds of plans and packages for heavy users – of which I am one.

Oftentimes, I cannot answer the phone – but all that is needed is my ok – or not – and this allows me to keep the phone quiet – answer – and not disrupt what I’m doing.

Yes, it’s also an alternative to speaking with someone, and I also use it to confirm sonething in writing – like a little email – in that it is a record of an agreement.

There are many other uses for it – and from the pc – one can even text for free.

I like it.

nikipedia's avatar

Everyone has smart phones? Huh?

Londongirl's avatar

I quite like texting as a kind of communication to keep in touch, but I wouldn’t go in length as you can read them wrong, so nothing better than face to face communcation.

tom_g's avatar

@nikipedia: “Everyone has smart phones? Huh?”

Sorry, I suppose not everyone. I’m not sure of the stats, but even the most luddite people I know seem to have broken down. It reminds me of the late 90s when we started to hit that period where everyone seemed to have internet access. I could be way off, though. Maybe it’s still just a small %.

Aethelflaed's avatar

I, too, hate talking on the phone. Hate it. And it’s impractical; with text versions of communication, you don’t both have to be there, with phones, you do. I also wish I could text or email to set up doctors appointments, deal with my school, all that stuff. And voicemail? No. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it.

My email app is apparently better than others, but still not as good as texting. Texting is set up to alert me with a tone (Star Trek Communicator Chirp) that I have a new one. Email can be, but I turn it off, because I get at least 1 email every couple of hours, and I really don’t need to be notified like that about an Amazon shipment, or FYI emails from my school, or Facebook apps who’s notifications haven’t been turned off yet and are now spamming me. So if you’re trying to get a hold of me quickly, texting is better.

Texting is also better because it shows you all the threading for your browsing, like this. Email looks like this, so it’s harder to see what everyone has said.

But you do make a good point that texting costs money, and email doesn’t. There is a solution to this. It’s called Twitter. No, not where you get everyone’s tweets on your sms app. That’s fucking stupid. No, a Twitter app, set to notify you with both icon and tone (perhaps a bird chirping?) when someone Direct Messages you or @ replies to you. It’s not actually as fast as email because I only have it check every 10 minutes for new messages to save battery life, but that’s usually fine, and I can manually refresh for times when I’m expecting something. Then, you get all the awesomeness of texting without the texting fees. I have one friend who doesn’t have texting on her phone (long story), so I’ve never, ever texted her, and she hates the phone like me. We do almost everything via Twitter (set up dinner, invite each other to movies, let them know that after a year we finally found where their iPod Touch was hidden in our house). The stuff that needs more than 140 characters we transfer to IM, but that has the same issue as phone in that you both have to be there at the same time for it to really work. Friends who use texting more than Twitter (because they have dumbphones) I’ll text if it’s something like finding out if they’re at the restaurant yet and where they’re seated, but otherwise it’s all about Twitter and IMing. Not Facebook. Fuck Facebook. Worst possible way to get a hold of me.

JLeslie's avatar

I read something that said 40% of Americans have smartphones, something like 70% of people in the UK. Not sure how accurate that is.

tom_g's avatar

Interesting stuff. Thanks for the replies. The big thing I see here is that it isn’t just a matter of smartphone-adoption. So, maybe texting won’t go the way of the pager after all. Maybe email is the dinosaur. Note: Email (more specifically, gmail) is my life database. Without going into how exactly I use it, I’ll say that I keep an empty inbox, and I run my entire life by email.

Seaofclouds's avatar

For me, it’s mostly about the message length. If I just want to send a short, quick message, I’ll text it. If I want to send a long message with lots of details, I’ll e-mail it.

CunningLinguist's avatar

@JLeslie Wikipedia seems to suggest that it’s closer to 20%, but the statistics given there are not straightforward.

@tom_g Another thing to consider is that many people use texting like an instant messaging device, whereas they think of e-mail as being more appropriate for longer messages that one might need to archive or refer back to. Since most people are accustomed to thinking of these as separate functions, someone in the mood to chat might be more likely to text than e-mail.

tom_g's avatar

@CunningLinguist – Hmm…if they use texting like IM, why not use IM, which is free? Again, it depends on how many people they know have smartphones, but it sounds like that isn’t the largest consideration.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@tom_g Because you both have to be on at the same time, and the apps are often subpar.

CunningLinguist's avatar

@tom_g I’m not saying it will make sense to everyone, or even that it makes sense at all. I’m just suggesting a potential psychological factor at work. Regardless, people just have preferences. Some people like texting. It sounds like you don’t, but can’t figure out why anyone would have a different opinion about technology than you do.

tom_g's avatar

@CunningLinguist: “It sounds like you don’t, but can’t figure out why anyone would have a different opinion about technology than you do.”

I’m not sure that’s it.

I’m asking some real questions because I am curious. I’m also interested in technology, and thought that the introduction of smartphones to the masses would mean a decline in the previous technology. I was wrong – very wrong. Now I’m trying to figure out what “the kids” see in texting that isn’t available in other technologies. I’m getting an idea from this thread.

Also, I’m a software developer surrounded by techies. Texting isn’t part of our world, so I have been unable to get info from them. They just shrug their shoulders.

What about this…

”@CunningLinguist – Hmm…if they use texting like IM, why not use IM, which is free? Again, it depends on how many people they know have smartphones, but it sounds like that isn’t the largest consideration.”

led you to this…

” Some people like texting. It sounds like you don’t, but can’t figure out why anyone would have a different opinion about technology than you do.”


Aethelflaed's avatar

@tom_g I think at least part of it is that everyone has a dumbphone before they have a smartphone. So they get used to texting. So then when they do get a smartphone, even though it may be logically smarter to use an IM app or Twitter or email, it takes energy to change and to learn new things, and staying with texting is easy and familiar.

CunningLinguist's avatar

@tom_g I was responding to your general attitude on this and other threads, not your specific comments to me. I am allowed to read other posts, you know. And in fact, your latest response actually admits that I was correct. Go figure.

I personally don’t know anyone with a smartphone. The one person I know who texts exclusively doesn’t like talking on the phone and has unlimited free texts (something you seem to have assumed doesn’t exist but is actually quite common). Texting on flip phones is very easy. You don’t have to launch a program, you don’t have to access a separate contact list. Maybe you don’t have to on a smartphone, either, but one might assume otherwise and so continue on with the familiar process they’ve used in the past.

Again, I’m not saying these are good reasons. I’m saying they are possible psychological explanations.

tom_g's avatar

@CunningLinguist: “I was responding to your general attitude on this and other threads, not your specific comments to me. I am allowed to read other posts, you know. And in fact, your latest response actually admits that I was correct. Go figure.”

Wow. Listen, I know that I am prone to bouts of condescension. This thread – I swear to christ (who I don’t believe in) – is one of those threads that I am seriously asking because I don’t know. I am asking for help in understanding this phenomenon. I have Verizon, and it costs $10/mo for unlimited messaging. Since I am under the impression that everyone and their grandmother is texting, I’d like to know why.

I’m getting some perspective from the inside. This thread is serving its purpose. I will ask questions to expand on a particular point, but only because the answer might appear as a non-answer. For example, if you ask me why I type on a QWERTY keyboard vs a DVORAK keyboard, I would expect you to follow up if I answered something like, “because a QWERTY keyboard has keys”.

CunningLinguist's avatar

@tom_g In which case, look to @Aethelflaed‘s answer: IM apps are (or are perceived to be) of low quality, while texting combines the IM features people like with the non-instant retrieval option of e-mail (making it a happy medium). Thus texting, the familiar and reliable standby, is preferred to the alternatives.

JilltheTooth's avatar

The data plan point is a good one as well. If I go over my limit on my data plan because I can’t get wifi everywhere, it costs me a bunch more than my unlimited texting plan does. No wifi near my house that I have access to, so texting makes more fiscal sense. And, as previously stated, it’s still cuter.

tom_g's avatar

Thanks all. I have a somewhat better understanding.

gorillapaws's avatar

@tom_g This phenomena also baffles me. It seems like a technological regression. If the trend continues, perhaps we’ll communicate by videotaping smoke signals and Morris-coding the youTube link.

The only time I ever really text someone is when I want to send someone a short bit of info, but don’t want to disturb them by calling. i.e. “I landed in NY safely”, or “call me if you’re still awake.”

Blueroses's avatar

SMS is easier to respond to. I do get email instantly on my phone but it shows up with all the headers and subject line and most people don’t delete the prior text before responding so on the small phone screen, it can get unwieldy.

SMS keeps the conversation flowing and it only takes me one step to respond (vs. open mailbox, read message, open menu, hit reply, open menu, hit “delete prior text”, type response, open menu, hit send)

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