Is it the death of texting?

A former media instructor of mine, who has since become my online friend in all things media, sent me an article from the U.K. called, “The Death of Texting”, asking what my students would think about it (thanks Neil!). The Online Mail article claims that the slowing growth of the number of texts signals an end to texting. I’m not an analytics specialist by any means, but I’m pretty sure it’s common for trends to stagnate at some point without it meaning the death knell is about to ring.

While it’s true that more and more people may opt for the texting services that are on their data plans rather than messaging by SMS, I don’t forsee an “end” to the craft of texting. I also don’t see video chat “replacing” texting, as the author claims. While the technology or platform may change, the communication itself doesn’t necessarily change. Instead, we end up with an expanded repertoire of tools.

Texting is popular because of its anytime, anyplace nature. As long as teenagers continue to stay in touch with friends in their every waking moment, whatever technology that helps them with this is surely going to survive. In an interview with Microsoft researcher, danah boyd, she explained to me that teens use technology to help them find their place and identity as their social circles continuously shift through their development.

The teenaged students I interviewed about Facebook and texting gave me some pretty good insight into the popularity of texting as a medium of choice, saying it’s great because it’s intimate while requiring short spurts of commitment, and participants don’t have to worry about how they look. Students talked about carrying on multiple conversations and the enjoyment of no one else knowing who or how many other people they were conversing with at the same time. Not only do they benefit from feeling connected, but they also reinforce or move higher in social status.

Although I didn’t talk to students about video chat, there’s a whole different dynamic going on in a visual conversation. You can’t talk to multiple people at the same time without the other person knowing about it, and body language and voice expression come back into play. The time commitment and attention required for such a task continues to keep this form of communication limited.

The question of “user friction” also comes to mind. Friction is generated by the number of steps it takes to follow through in using the technology, as well as the commitment required on the part of the user. In online commerce it’s been found that customers feel most comfortable with about 3 steps in making online purchases. This friction is generated through the desire of ease of use against the peace of mind required when it comes to making secure transactions. Not enough steps will cause a customer to question the security of the transaction, while too many steps make the customer feel like online shopping is an arduous task. In communication with close friends, we want to be one-step away. Texting is a one-step process. Straight from your contacts, you can compose and send a message. It’s an easy way of maintaining close friendships.

In Facebook, the “Like” button is what I would call a half-step process. It only requires hitting the button of something you’re already on anyway. The time commitment and attention required is minimal, maybe even too minimal. It’s a perfectly easy way of signalling that you’re aware and somewhat interested in your friend’s or acquaintance’s life. These tiny bouts of commitment are part of relationship maintenance.

Video chat is a multi-step process. You need to make sure you look okay, you need to make sure you are in a suitable location, and then, you have to make sure the other person is available at the same time, under the same conditions. These steps come before the ones you have to take in operating the communications device. Going through all the steps of a video chat signals a serious investment in the relationship and will likely be reserved for such.

(moved over from July 1, 2011 Blogger post)

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