Nation of Texters: A Third of People Prefer a Text to Talking


A new poll from the Pew Research Center asked Americans about how they use their phone, and in particular, their phone’s non-voice features. They got predictable but still staggering results about sending and receiving text messages, especially from the younger demographic.  The summary states:

Some 83% of American adults own cell phones and three-quarters of them (73%) send and receive text messages. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project asked those texters in a survey how they prefer to be contacted on their cell phone and 31% said they preferred texts to talking on the phone, while 53% said they preferred a voice call to a text message. Another 14% said the contact method they prefer depends on the situation.

Unsurprisingly, young adults are the most prolific texters, and though this might be widely known, the sheer number of texts they send is still surprising.  Cell phone owners between the ages of 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day.  This is more than double the figure for 25 – 34 year-olds, and 23 times the figure for texters that are 65 and over.

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  1. robyn ann goldstein says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Paul K says:

      I would like to ask that the blog bar this person from posting comments. It is basically spam and nonsense. The “no two words” nonsense is also ridiculous and not legal – copyright requires larger bodies of text.

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      • robyn ann goldstein says:

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  2. Nanno says:

    “Cell phone owners between the ages of 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day”

    110 messages a day? per person? (I guess ‘exchange’ refers to both sending and receiving, but still)

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  3. Andreas Moser says:

    I prefer receiving texts (but not 110 a day) because it’s less intrusive. I can decide when to reply, if at all.
    That’s why I almost never answer the phone:

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  4. Jen says:

    It’s interesting that it drops so quickly in the 25-34 demographic. I couldn’t believe the number when I read it (I’m 26), but I told my high school students and they weren’t surprised at all. One of them said, “More like 100 in an hour.” It made me feel old.

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    • Joshua Northey says:

      The world is changing very quickly.

      I am 30 and anything but a ludite (I was building my own PCs 15 years ago), and I maybe send/receive 15 texts a month. Meanwhile my cousin who is 10 years younger than me sends 10,000/month (not kidding).

      Part of that is her current age, but part of that is that she got her first cell phone at age 11 and I got my first cell phone at age 20 (just a year before her though I am 10 years older).

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      • Tim says:

        I too am 26, and that number doesn’t surprise me. Texting is today’s AIM. It’s used conversationally, not to convey information. Many of the 100+ texts are likely “sup”, “nothin”, “u”, “nothin”, and “cool”.

        If you counted up my AIM messages per day when in HS or college, it would likely approach or exceed 100. The communication hasn’t changed much in the last few years, just the medium.

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  5. David Ron says:

    Why I Think Spontaneous Phone Calls Are Rude

    Talking on the telephone has two inherent problems. The first is that there is a certain etiquette that requires extra unnecessary information such as a greeting, “How are you doing” and a closing, “Talk to you later, goodbye” which increases the cost of the communication. But much worse, the medium is synchronous. In order to place a call, you have to dial the number, and wait for the other person to connect (or else possibly wait for an extensive voicemail greeting). The recipient of the call is completely interrupted from whatever task he/she was doing, which may be annoying and will cause mental context switch which comes with some cost.

    Texting is light-weight asynchronous operation. The interruption is momentary (a brief sound or a buzz) and the recipient can choose to immediately respond or finish up a thought or conversation with somebody else before responding. The recipient can glance down at the phone in the middle of a meeting and understand the context of the message and is given the opportunity to choose if this new interruption is worth switching to or not.

    Some younger people (including me, at 31) feel like placing an unplanned phone call to somebody is extremely rude because it implies that whatever the caller wants to talk about is more important than whatever the recipient was already doing. The caller interrupts the recipient saying, “stop everything and listen to me for a minute or 30″. Indeed, when somebody calls me without warning while I am focusing on something important (such as an emergency at work), I feel anxiety about the potential wasted time talking about something less immediately important. Many friends prefer I start a conversation via text (email, sms, IM) before elevating that conversation to a voice call to increase the bandwidth of the communication once both parties have agreed that the need exists.

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    • Joshua Northey says:

      I am 30 and of the school that if what I have to say to someone doesn’t merit interrupting them and gaining their full attention I probably shouldn’t bother them at all.

      Maybe a half dozen times a month I will call a friend and talk for 5mins to an hour. Other than that I just talk to them when I see them.

      I only uses texts for brief exchanges of information (“Are you going to be at hockey tomorrow?” “Yes.” “Can you give me a ride?” “Yes.”)

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    • Mark says:

      I am 25 y.o. older than you and I agree. I have taken much flak for not always answering my phone. If I am busy (broadly defined), I usually don’t answer. I figure if it is life or death then the caller will leave a message.

      I am amazed at people my age who think that just because they phone, I must drop everything to answer it.

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      • Satanfornoreason says:

        I’m 30. My parents bought me a cell phone when I finished college, at age 22. I didn’t ask for, and I didn’t want a cell phone. Because it was a surprise to me, I didn’t protest getting one either, or tell them not to get me one.

        When I thought about it, though, I realized that the reason I didn’t want a cell phone was because I didn’t like the idea of people thinking that – just because I had a cell phone – that they could get in touch with me. Suddenly, communication had granted an unwarranted – but very real nonetheless – shift in expectations and entitlement, from the person being called (before) to the caller (after).

        Personally, the following has seemed to decline in recent years from the time I noticed it and tried to give it some structure in my brain, and I appreciate the decline, though I don’t know if it’s because of my age, my peer group, my location, or the fact that society has moved past it. (A good example of that particular difficulty is nicely illustrated by the disappearance – again, in my world, since I don’t see this particular phenomenon anymore – of people listening, out loud, to all of their ring tones, supposedly for the purpose of selecting one of them as their ring tone of choice. This used to happen all the time, but I don’t know whether the phenomenon is still as widespread in the groups of people today who are getting cell phones for the first time.)

        Since I (the person being called) have a cell phone, there is – in the mind of many callers – an obligation on my part to answer. Now, I don’t care one way or another whether the person calling thinks I have an obligation if I don’t know that person and if I don’t have a prearranged obligation to do so. However, some of the callers are people that I know, friends, family, co-workers, all of whom have different expectations of what should happen when they call, leave a message, send a text, etc. The problem arises when these people turn the incident (of not answering, returning a message) into something that it is not, which is usually an assumption by the caller of the callee’s motivation, whether or not one exists.

        Here is a good example, not about phones in particular, but as you’ll see, as enlightening. One day, seemingly out of the blue, I get an angry text message from a friend that I hadn’t seen or talked to in about a year. Turns out, he was upset because he’d sent messages to my Myspace account, and since I’d never read those messages, I’d never even known that he wrote them, or what they contained. In his mind, when he sent those messages, after a certain period of time which was his own to decide (i.e., I didn’t have any input into selecting whatever particular amount of time he selected), and without requiring any further evidence or feedback, he decided that I’d had to have received the messages, and having received the messages, I’d read them, and by not replying to them, I was upset with him, or some other unfriendly thing.

        Bottom line: if I don’t answer the phone, or a text message, or an email, or a Facebook message, or a letter in the mail, the only conclusion that is appropriate – reasonable, logical – is quite shallow and unrevealing: I didn’t answer, or respond. That’s it. But not responding to something is one thing, while choosing to not respond is another. The caller/sender can only safely assume that I didn’t answer the phone. Not why I didn’t. Or whether I screened it or not. Regardless of whatever evidence may seemingly add weight to the conclusion being drawn (e.g., posting on Facebook does not mean I read the message you sent to me on Facebook).

        In conclusion, I must say that I think the technology and knowledge that underlies the ways in which we communicate in the modern world are fascinating, and the things that they have enabled have been absolutely amazing and provided further advancement of technologies.

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  6. Dan says:

    Texts are great unless you want to engage in a meaningful exchange of information. But then again, who does that anymore?

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    • Paul K says:

      So, you can text someone to ask when they are free to talk. I do that all the time (and am 52). I hate being called on a mobile phone since I may be speaking with someone in person, concentrating on something, driving, etc. Text is is great and forces people to get to the point since not a lot of characters allowed and takes some effort to type (vs. speaking)

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    • Chris A says:

      I agree with your first point. Texts are less time efficient when compared to talking, but it’s useful means of getting one’s attention without intruding upon their personal time prior to engaging in meaningful exchange of information (as in the example given by Paul K)

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  7. Mike B says:

    People who prefer to txt simply have nothing worthwhile to say.

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  8. hwinva says:

    If this is an important question, can’t the data be obtained more reliably from the phone companies, which have the data? They know (or can find out) how old users are; they certainly know how many text messages are sent per day per user.

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