Text Me, Don’t Call Me

by Ben Bajarin   |   July 14th, 2013

I find it interesting to look at how communication has evolved. In particular to where we are today where with certain generations non-verbal real-time communication has become the majority of interactions. I come across this frequently when I tell people the fastest way to get a response from me is to text me not to call me. I’m not always in a setting where I can answer my phone but I am generally always in a setting where I can answer a text message.

Technology has enabled this new tier of communication. I first started thinking about this new tier when I was studying how millennial’s were using technology in the 2007 timeframe. It was around this time we saw the shift happen with this generation to texting more than they were talking on the phone.

At the time this was a profound observation. This young demographic’s preferred method of communication was text messaging and in many contents it trumped other forms of communication.

Prior to text messaging, instant messaging was the closest thing we had to real-time non-verbal communication but it required you be logged in and at a computing. 1 Texting delivered on the value of instant messaging but made it possible any-time any where, for a fee of course.

I bring this up because it begs an interesting question. Have we finished innovating on how we communicate? This is essentially one of the primary ways man has used technology. We have used it to our advantage to increase the manner and method in which we communicate. Communicating is a basic human need and nearly every example we have of communication evolving has been directly empowered by technological innovation.

Tiers of Communication

To look deeper at the question of future communication evolution it is helpful to look at the ways in which we communicate. I call these the tiers of communication and I believe there are three of them. Below is a chart I made for a presentation on the subject.

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 4.11.37 PM

The first tier or communication is a basic verbal conversation, either in person, on the phone, over video conference, etc.

The second tier of communication is like a text message, instant message, or some other form of conversation that takes place non-verbally but is in real-time or near real-time.

The third tier is made up of conversations we have that are non-verbal and not in real time. Email, and snail mail are examples of this form of communication.

What’s fascinating about having different options for communicating is that we can use the medium that best dictates the context of the conversation. For example in an emergency a verbal conversation is necessary. But for a question about a grocery store item a text message would probably suffice.

Text messaging is perhaps one of the most fascinating ways in which our communication styles have advanced. Texting is obviously good for short conversations, but many millennials, for example, will have very long conversations and multiples of them simultaneously in real-time. We have all heard the horror stories of parents finding unusually high cell phone bills due to kids texting more than 10,000 texts in a month. That’s some dedication to this new form of communication.

Interestingly social media like Facebook and Twitter contain multiple elements of these tiers. On Facebook I can post something with no real time sensitive purpose or even something requiring no response at all. I can also have a real-time conversation with someone via Facebook chat. I can send a message and even have a voice conversation.

Similarly Twitter gives me many ways of using the tiers of communication, minus verbal for now. Twitter is actually interesting to me and many in my close circle. Since many of us are bearish on Facebook, we have made time investments in Twitter. Because of how I use Twitter, it is nearly as good as text messaging if one wants to communicate with me.

My guess is that technology is not done advancing how we communicate. My conviction is that the tiers I outline above will stay the same, however, technology may enable new ways of engaging in them not possible today.

Maybe it will be the TV, or wearable devices which will enable new ways to communicate. One thing, however, is highly likely. The millennial generation that embraced new technologies and adopted them into their communication methods, will be the generation that brings us the next major innovation in communication.

  1. of course morse code was a form of real-time non verbal communication []
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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • qka

    How is Tier 2 “personal”, but Tier 3 isn’t? Being “personal” is a function of the message, not hte medium. Victorians certainly considered mailed letters “personal”.

    I believe that the rise of texting is the marriage of teenage aversion to their parents combined with the availability of a new technology. Being driven to school, etc., a teenager cannot have a private voice telephone conversation in the back seat, but they can have a private texting conversation. Plus, when focused on their phone, they can ignore their parents. (Just wait until your kids are teenagers!)

    Texting can be more real time than e-mail. Unfortunately, this push to considering it real time medium has led to texting while driving and other activities that really require undivided attention; that has led to the attendant social problems society now has to cope with. I have seen it in the real world, there are morons out their who do text and drive. On the other hand, it has also given us hilarious YouTube videos of kids so engrossed with their phones that they walk into shopping mall fountains.

    You’re on to something, but I have issues with your ideas as presented.

    • benbajarin

      I didn’t say it wasn’t personal but I also didn’t say it was. The point of tier three is that there is communication latency, and that with that medium this is not an issue. Given the fact there are more immediate forms of communication available for us today, for one to choose to use one where there is latency would mean that the context of that message tolerates communication latency.

      Of course any tier can be personal, but my point is that given the nature of the methods available to us today, and in particular younger generation, the method will generally dictate the nature of the discussion.