December 9, 2014
woman texting in kitchen

Ever since the advent of the text message, there has been concern that text messaging would replace phone calls entirely. As cell phones explode in popularity and accessibility, especially among teenagers and young adults, the statistics certainly show that text messaging is becoming the most popular way to communicate by mobile phone users. Recent studies show that 97% of US adults own a cell phone, and as many as 80% of cell phone users send text messages. In fact, cell phones are considered to be the most quickly and prolifically adopted technological advancement in human history.

The question remains, though: is text messaging replacing phone calls? Taking an initial look at the data, it may appear that way. A 2011 study by Washington DC’s Pew Research Center showed that, over the study period, the average number of text messages sent and received by an adult with a smartphone rose from 29.7 to 41.5. In their data period for voice calls, the average number of calls made per day decreased from 13.1 to 12.3.

In addition, the data shows that prolific texters send text messages at a far greater rate above the average than prolific callers make voice calls. The median number of calls per day was five, compared to the mean of 12.3 as listed above. But the median number of text messages per day was only ten, compared to the massive 41.5 mean. What this shows is that while the average phone user sends a fairly small number of text messages, there is a class of very prolific texters who send many, many more.

By looking further into the study, that class can be identified fairly easily. 95% of 18-29 year olds utilize text message, with an average of 87.7 text messages sent on a normal day. And narrowing further to the college age of 18-24, the average becomes 109.5 text messages – 12 percent of those, more than one in ten, say they receive more than 200 text messages in a normal day. That comes out to more than six thousand text messages in a month!

Even compared to emails, the juggernaut that is text messaging is overwhelming in its popularity. Statistics show that the average person responds to a text message in 90 seconds or less; only two percent of individuals respond to the average email within that time frame. 90% of all text messages are received and read within just three minutes of sending, and over 97% are opened – compared to only 22% of emails.

And so, by all accounts, it appears that text messaging is indeed taking over the communications world, while the phone call dies out like the proverbial dinosaurs. But is that the whole story?

Diving back into the Pew Research Center study, an interesting correlation can be found. Cell phone owners who send few or no texts (0-10 in a normal day) also make an average of only eight voice calls. As the number of texts increases, so too does the number of calls. Call owners who send and receive more than fifty texts per day also send and receive over thirty voice calls per day. That’s almost three times the average, and six times the mean number of calls. This correlation holds true across the board, meaning that while young adults are the most prolific text messagers, they are also the most prolific callers.

When asked how they’d rather be contacted, the study found that even among cell phone users who do use text messaging, the majority (53%) would rather receive a voice call than a text message. Only 31% said that they would rather receive a text, and 14% said that their preferred method of contact would depend on why they were being contacted.

With these statistics in mind, a rather different picture becomes clear. While texting is expanding, and phone calls are on the decline, this is not a sign that the phone call is becoming a lost art. Frequent text messagers are also frequent callers, while the people who make few calls also rarely text. Most cell phone users are still happier to receive a call than a text. So the expansion of texting isn’t a loss in verbal communication; rather, the expansion of texting signals an expansion in faster, more efficient communication. Because when you don’t have time for a full conversation, and you know that your message will probably get a response in less than two minutes, why NOT text instead of calling?