Get Hip to Text Messaging

NetSquared's picture

I heart my text messages.

Who doesn't like to get a note from their sweety during the day or confirm the address of where you're meeting your friend without having to take notes and loose it on the way there?

On my new cell phone when I call 411 they send the number I was calling about as a text message to my phone. I think that's cool. Why? Because I don't have to try and write it down and then program it back in my phone after they connect me. Also, I don't always have to call them back every time I want a specific number because I'm too lazy to program it. Now, I just program it right way in a few buttons. It saves them money, I'm sure, because I have unlimited 411 on my plan and they want to reduce the number of times I'm calling, no doubt.

I have also used text messaging as an activisim tool. During marches finding friends or getting updates from watchdog Web sites about what's going on with the action. IndyMedia has done this in the past. 

I remember getting text messages about what was happening during the Pro-Choice Rally last year. Even if I wasn't in the same spot that the action they were reporting on was, I felt connected and able to make educated choices about what I personally wanted to do in that moment. Did I want to support people who were sitting in the middle of the street three blocks from me? I was working as a medic and it made our job much much easier to find where hot spots were and help keep people safe.

I say all this because I'm wondering how else non-profits can use text messages to keep their supporters informed.

Has any lobbying organization used it to get info to supporters waiting on the word on important legislation?

We've learned from ePhilanthropy experiments with eMail campaigns that communicating with people in formats they are accustomed to increases their involvement, in trackable ways.

Organizatins are always talking about ways to "energize" younger activists ... get youth involved in new ways. Thinking about the best ways to use text as an activist and information tool may just help do this ....

I found this article interesting because it shows, beyond a doubt, that youth own the texting market.


Time to get hip to text messages
- C.W. Nevius
Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The other day the phone in my pocket gave off an odd chirp. I grabbed it just as one of our other cell phones made the same weird sound. A look at the display screen confirmed the bad news.

It was a text message. Geez, how do we get it again? Find "settings.'' Locate "text.'' Hit "read.'' No wait, that's the "send'' button. My wife and I were still pushing buttons when our teenage daughter came downstairs.

"Did you see the message?'' she asked, having already picked it up, read it and replied.

It turned out our son in college had received an appointment he'd been trying for and had sent a text to let us know. It was good news. And in an hour or so we would have figured it out, too.

In the ever-evolving world of communications, there are two kinds of people: Those who text, and everyone else. The first group is rapidly overtaking the second.

Why is it popular? For teens, it is a chance for a private conversation in a busybody world of teachers and parents. No wonder researchers have dubbed today's youth "GenText." And, once you get the hang of it, it is a fun way to pass the time.

Kelly Viselman, a sophomore at Cal, says she "probably sends at least 10 text messages a day,'' sometimes pecking them out on her cell phone while walking to class. And while she always pays rapt attention during lectures, she says there are students who "definitely text when they are bored in class.''

Most likely, the professor, like many over-30s, has no clue.

"The key factor in whether you like to do this is age,'' says Lewis Ward, an analyst for IDC, a worldwide market research company. "Teenagers and younger adults are more likely to do text messaging and IM (instant messaging).''

Want some numbers? Certainly. Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life project, says the organization recently completed a survey about text messaging.

"Twenty-five percent of all Internet users, which is some 29 million folks, have done it,'' Rainie says. "And on a typical day, 11 percent, or 16 million adults, are text messaging.''

The Pew survey considers "adults'' to be those over 18, but as nearly everyone agrees, the bulk of those sending and receiving text messages are young. And most of those over-30s are probably like Viselman's mom, who, she says, "doesn't understand it at all.''

"Older folks had to work through a number of key technological innovations,'' says Teny Takahashi, an analyst with the Radicati Group, a Palo Alto marketing company. "First the cell phone, then voice mail, then e-mail, then text messages. It is not as intuitive for that group.''

Should we care? Teens start lots of trends. That doesn't mean that we should all start wearing our baseball caps off kilter.

But this might be one to watch. Mizuko "Mimi" Ito is a Stanford grad who is now doing research in anthropology for the prestigious Annenberg Center for Communications at USC. She edited "Personal, Portable, Pedestrian,'' a new book about mobile phone use among teens in Japan and the effect on society.

If you think text messaging is of no interest to you, Ito has a question: Ever have someone at a restaurant annoy you with a loud, inconsiderate cell phone call? How about on BART?

"In the United States people are still dealing with manners in a public space,'' Ito says. "That was something that was debated in Japan in the early '90s. Now, in public restaurants or on trains, voice calls are not appropriate at all.''

Ito says when passengers ride trains in Japan they are bombarded with announcements saying "No voice calls.'' But text messages are flying. Ito says that Japanese kids are more likely to have grown up with numerical cell phone keys instead of a computer keyboard. Most of them are so adept that they can "touch type'' -- sending messages without looking.

"So you can do it under a desk,'' she says, "or while riding a bike. It really fills a communication niche not filled by any other communications modality.''

It may be a bit of a shock to trendy Americans, but the United States is way behind the curve on this. One survey estimated that of the 2.9 billion text messages sent worldwide every day, only 14 percent are in North America. Europe, Asia and the Philippines are far ahead. And in those countries it isn't just teenagers. In Japan, for example, Ito says all ages send text messages, with the possible exception of "older, male, businessmen,'' who are slow to adapt.

When she is asked whether text messaging will replace computers, Ito's stock answer is, "No, I think it will replace gum and cigarettes.''

So we'd better get with it. I've been doing my part. The other day I sent a text message to my daughter. And just to show that I wasn't a complete newbie, I wrote it in text speak, using "u'' for "you'' and "tks'' for "thanks.'' A reply came back with shocking speed.

"Why,'' she wanted to know, "are you talking so weird?''

C.W. Nevius' column appears Tuesdays and Saturdays in the Bay Area section and on Fridays in East Bay Life. E-mail him at

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