This article was published on July 18, 2012

Why do we love SMS so much?

Why do we love SMS so much?
Jamillah Knowles
Story by

Jamillah Knowles

Jamillah is the UK Editor for The Next Web. She's based in London. You can hear her on BBC Radio 5Live's Outriders. Follow on Twitter @jemi Jamillah is the UK Editor for The Next Web. She's based in London. You can hear her on BBC Radio 5Live's Outriders. Follow on Twitter @jemimah_knight or drop a line to [email protected]

Acision, known for its mobile messaging solutions has conducted a study into the world of the SMS. It’s a technology that is more than twenty years old but it is still one of the most widely used communications methods in the world.

According to Ofcom, average SMS use is increasing for both pre-pay and post-pay users.

So why do we love SMS? Acision worked with Internet psychologist Graham Jones to look at survey results from the UK and find out why it’s so popular in the broadband era.

The study questioned 2,000 respondents in the UK but Jones’ focus was on the UK results. In terms of gender differences, the study found that men text a larger number of contacts than women, sending text messages to an average of 17 people regularly, compared to women who habitually text the same 13 people.

Women on the other hand, are more likely to send longer text messages or SMSs that say ‘I love you’. In the workplace for example, men are three times more likely to text a work colleague than women, however, as many as 15% of mobile users in the UK have called in sick via text message –  most likely using text to avoid a conversation.

On these findings Jones commented, “The fact that men communicate with more people doesn’t mean that they are more social – men tend to be more practical sending short messages, compared to women who may text fewer people, but use text messages to deepen relationships.”

The research also uncovered differences in messaging habits across the age groups. Just 19% of young people in the survey communicate using services such as Skype and Twitter on their mobile, compared to 94% of 18-35 year olds who send SMS.

The 18-25 year old bracket sends an average of 19 text messages per day, or 133 messages a week, more than double any other age group. Over 55 year olds mostly send text messages to reach family (55%), while only 19% of under 25s text their family with 45% of young people preferring to send messages to friends.

A key reason for sending an SMS rather than an instant message was reliability of SMS with 46% stating that SMS is more reliable than other messaging services. In addition, SMS is preferred over other messaging services because of the immediacy – speed of delivery (40%) – and reach (40%).

“Age also plays a part in how people send text messages – older people tend to find typing with thumbs comes less naturally, which could lead to texting being less common,” notes Jones. “As mobile and text is a technology that young people have grown up with, they will naturally send more text messages. While teens thirty years ago may have phoned their friends as part of growing up and social development, nowadays they send text messages. The social reasons haven’t changed, but the preferred communication method has.”

Methods and messages

It seems that there is a divide in the reasons why we send messages and their content and what we choose as a method for relaying that information.

“People today are also compartmentalising their messages as they all have a specific purpose. Email is being used much less for personal communication and much more for business, whereas social networks tend to remain a medium to message friends and peers, sometimes on a one-to-many basis,” says Jones.

“Text messaging remains a functional communication tool, but still with a personal aspect, which could explain its longevity,” he continues. “You can say things in text you wouldn’t necessarily say on another communication tool. Although there has been an influx in new broadband-based messaging services, which people are certainly experimenting with, people are differentiating services according to their need and using them as complimentary services as opposed to stopping usage of one or another messaging service.”

No loss for words

Over half of all respondents in the survey said they still need text or would be lost without it. It should be noted that there are many Internet communications services that can be linked to SMS too.

But the main reasons why we still use a technology this old, is likely to be related to reliability, or, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

“The findings of this study show that text messaging remains popular, and I believe this comes down to trust and reliability. If a user sends a message via a social network, it may feel less immediate, and there are more technological hurdles which could hinder the delivery. Texting however often elicits an immediate response.

Jones also feels that the expansion of choice for text-based communications may be leading users back to the devil they know, “The introduction of a plethora of new messaging services may mean that people may get confused and fall back on the reliable SMS. Running in the back of the human mind is the need to do everything with the least possible effort, and we instinctively search for the easiest way to communicate. This is why we rely on and still love text messaging.”

Image Credit: fazen

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