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Sat January 18, 2014
All Tech Considered

Still Texting? OMG, That's Already So Old-School

Originally published on Tue January 21, 2014 1:31 pm

If you have teenagers in your house, you may find this hard to believe, but texting is on the decline.

For the first time ever, traditional texting — the kind you do through your cell phone provider — has dropped in Britain. That's according to the annual technology predictions report from Deloitte, which reported that the number of text messages passed around by Brits decreased by 7 billion last year.

Instead, the company predicts, people in the U.K. will send around 300 billion instant messages in 2014. That's the kind of messaging that requires an app and uses the Internet. Old-fashioned texting is only expected to account for about 140 billion messages.

This trend will probably continue, David Gerzof Richard tells NPR's Lynn Neary. A media and marketing professor at Emerson College, Richard says people are increasingly using apps to send messages, even though texting hasn't been around for that long. He proposes several reasons why:

You pay for texts: With a texting plan from your cell phone provider, you usually pay to send text messages. With instant messaging services, including Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp, the app is free. You pay for a data plan — your access to the Internet — but you're not billed for your messages.

You can do more with instant messages: For example, you can set a time limit for how long messages on Snapchat can be seen; you can send audio or video clips with WhatsApp.

You don't have to worry about phone numbers: Most apps don't need them. "That's a nice thing about where this is all moving, the intersection of social and mobile," Richard says. "You can fire up an app, connect it to your Facebook, and all of a sudden you're able to pull in all of your contacts from Facebook and you never have to worry about the phone number."

"It looks like we're starting to move in a direction where the younger generation isn't thinking in terms of phone numbers, but in terms of usernames and handles," Richard says.

Where young people go, their elders will follow: The report also predicts that people over 55 will be buying smart phones at the quickest rate this year. Richard says that will drive even more people to instant messaging.

"Remember, if their kids are there and they want to be connecting with their kid, they're going to have to be on the platform to send them that message, like, 'Hey, come home, dinner's ready,' " he says.

It may seem too soon to talk about the good old days of texting, but technological turnover is another sign of the times.

"Texting really is just about a 20-year-old technology, and we're talking about it declining already," Richard says. "These are sort of the cycles that we're seeing in technology development."

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Transcript

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

If you have teenagers in your house, you may find this hard to believe, but texting - at least the kind you do through your cell phone provider - is on the decline. This news comes from the British consulting firm Deloitte, which reported that the number of texts sent in Britain last year decreased by seven billion. Of course, that doesn't mean we are retreating to snail mail or even email. And don't think for a minute that anyone is abandoning texting language - those lovely acronyms like OMG and LOL. No, of course not. And here to tell us what is replacing good old-fashioned texting is David Gerzof Richard, a professor of digital media and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. Good to have you with us, David.

DAVID GERZOF RICHARD: Always good to be with you.

NEARY: Now, according to Deloitte's technology predictions report, there were 160 billion instant messages sent in the U.K. last year, and that's compared to only 145 billion texts. Now, that is still an awful lot of texts. But can you explain why there has been such a drop? I mean, is it more expensive to text?

RICHARD: It depends on what network you're on and what country you're in. The cell phone products, the service products that companies offer sometimes include text messaging and sometimes they don't. And if they don't, then they charge for it. So, what people have been doing in cases where they are being billed for the texts that they're sending, they're moving over to apps, apps on smartphones.

NEARY: OK. So, apps like what? Like Facebook and Snapchat? Is that what we're talking about?

RICHARD: So, Snapchat, Facebook would be two of them. Some of the most popular ones are an app called WhatsApp or a Chinese program called WeChat. And between Apple's iMessage, WhatsApp and WeChat, they're sending 50 billion messages globally each day.

NEARY: OK. And what's better for people? Why is it better for people to use those apps?

RICHARD: Well, there's a couple of reasons. One is it's free. You're using the data portion of your cell phone plan, so it doesn't cost you anything to send a text over there. And there's a lot more sort of multimedia richness that can be built in. You can have these chats with all kinds of friends from all over the place based on a user ID, not a cell phone number. And there's all kinds of interesting things that can be added into this.

NEARY: So, they really are still texting, just using a different means, right?

RICHARD: Yeah. So, the texting language is still being used. It's just instead of going over the traditional cell phone networks through the texting app that's built into your phone when you get it from the store, you're using an app you're downloading through, say, the Apple App Store and using that to be able to connect with your friends.

NEARY: David Gerzof Richard is a professor of digital media and marketing at Emerson College. Thanks for being with us, Professor Richard.

RICHARD: Always good to be with you.

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NEARY: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.