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Friday, April 17, 2015

Why Text?

I've had a smart phone for nearly 15 years now.  Before iPhone and Android, I had a Blackberry, and before that a Palm Treo.  In all that time, I've never had much a desire to text.

I guess part of the reason I never saw the point of text messaging was that I've always had my email on my phone.  Since anyone could always get a message to me on my phone via email, the notion of texting seemed pointless.  In fact, worse than pointless since texts are much more limited in size than an email, could not contain attachments, for many years could not contain pictures, and could not be stored in some other location for later reference.  On top of all that, my phone company charged a hefty fee of $20/month on top of my data charges in order to send and receive texts.

Text messaging always seemed inferior to email, so why would anyone want to use to it?  I suppose it caught on because many people did not have smart phones with email for many years, but were able to text.  I can certainly see why it would be attractive to send text message if email was not available on the phone.  But in the near decade since the iPhone was released, virtually everyone has email on their phones.  So why does text messaging still thrive?  Is it really just a matter of habit, from the days when cell phones could not support email?

My phone vendor finally decided to provide free text messaging included in my plan.  I used it for a few weeks, but found there really was no point to it.  In fact, I increasingly find it annoying for many reasons.

For starters, my phone is not my only device.  I use a tablet, as well as several laptops and desktops during the course of the day.  If someone sends me an email, I can get it on any one of those devices. If someone sends me a text, I have to check my phone.  That's just one extra step I need to do all the time.

I was also encouraged by my phone vendor to upgrade to business grade messaging for my work phone.  Why, I asked?  How was this any different?  I was told that because there is no centralized server for personal texts, some texts can get lost if the recipient does not have their phone turned on for a long enough time?  So regular text messaging is therefore untrustworthy for important communications.

Another problem, when I get a new phone, I have to migrate my existing data or I lose all of my texts.  If I switch vendors and phone types, my chances of losing all my old data are much higher.  I did find an app for my Android that lets me back up my texts to a separate file, but that was a pain. By contrast, email is simply stored in my Gmail account, and local copies are easy enough to create, simply by using a mail reader like Outlook or Thunderbird to download all of my messages.

Text messages are limited in how many characters you can send at once.  I suppose there is also some theoretical limit to the length of emails, but I've never had a problem there.  Since emails work find for both short and long messages, why should I adopt a second medium that will only work for short messages?

Text messaging is tied to phone numbers.  If someone gets a new phone number, they won't get my message.  While the same could be said for email addresses, I at least usually get back an error message if I email a non-working address.  With texts there is no such warning.  For the years when I was required to pay for texts, I had text messaging turned off by my vendor.  People would try to text me and get upset when I did not respond, not knowing that I never received their message.  If someone gives me their number, how do I know if I can text to it?  It could be a land line, or someone who simply cannot receive texts.

Email is more universal.  I know that practically everyone has a phone, but my children, for example do not.  They are too young for a phone.  At least that is what I say since I don't want to pay for one.  They do have free email accounts though.  My mother, and much of her generation does not either.  They don't like reading on small screens and don't see the point.  I also know a number of poor people who simply cannot afford $50 or $60 a month for smart phone service, but can easily check their free email accounts at the library.

International messages are another issue.  If I text someone in another country, there is an extra fee for that with many plans.  With email, there is never any charge sent to anyone ever.

People say that text messaging is faster than email.  That may be true if you have a POP3 account or something that only check for mail once a minute or every two minutes.  A minute or two may not seem like a lot, but in texting back and forth with someone, you don't want that delay.  But with my Gmail App or using ActiveSync, my emails come in just as fast as a text message.  There are no delays.

I read all sorts of articles about how email is old technology and is probably on its way out as a means of communication.  I don't think that is the case given how universal it is.  I also cannot think of one way that text messaging is superior to email.