Texting has taken over a major portion of many of our lives, and it is not just teenagers who text all day. Nearly all of us do it to some extent, likely from the same device you are using to read this article. If not, that device is certainly in reach and there might even be some unread messages that you need to get to. Perhaps you just checked them a few seconds ago.
It might seem like a silly line of thought, but that is the reality we live in. There is a sense that we cannot escape texting. Yet how much do we text, and how much texting do the most active texters among us do?
Once upon a time, people did not have unlimited texting and the character limit for texts was much stricter. The one-word messages of today were not cost-effective. Many of the abbreviations we use today were invented to make the most of a single text or get around character limits. They also make messages easier to read (to some of us) in our busy lives.
Of course, that really is not the case anymore except with the cheapest of plans and phones (likely pre-paid), and people can text as much as they please. In fact, in emergency situations people are advised to text instead of call to put less strain on the mobile infrastructure. It makes complete sense. Telegraphs were for a time far more common than telephones, using rudimentary technology to accomplish the same goal as texting (albeit in a far lengthier manner). The idea is not that different.
People simply do not use SMS to text as much anymore with Facebook Messaging, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter DMs, and other forms of online communication. To keep pace, texting needed to allow for a lot more, and so it has. You can easily send pictures and other types of information (though not all types) via a text message.
However, technology improving is a double-edged sword in many regards. People are concerned about hacking, their privacy, and people mining for past statements or images. There will always be people texting as long as it exists, but other, more secure and removed apps might be the future. After all, many people dislike giving their phone numbers away easily but will be happy to chat someone on an app where a block is easier and harassment better mitigated.
Technology has made it easier to text as well, making more people able to do it. People using flip phones in the early days had it hard, having to press several times for each character. However, today we have predictive text, full touchscreen keyboards that only improve over time, and speech-to-text to make things easier when we are driving or have our hands full. Anyone can text at practically anytime and send whatever they want, perhaps increasing the volume of texts overall.
There will, of course, be a great variance on the number of text messages sent from each person. Some of us practically or actually text and message people all day for a living. Other people want to become the next social media influencer (which involves a lot of texting and interaction if you want to do it right), and there are some of us who still do not have a smartphone or even a cell phone, and have no interest in getting one. While we would like to go over every group, general averages can tell us the most and are what we have the most reliable information on.
Overall, as of the most recent stats we could find (it always takes a while to get precise data on this), about six billion text messages each day in the United States alone. The same source also notes that 81 percent of Americans text regularly and 97 percent of adults text at least once a week. This is practically all of us. It is easy to calculate that, on average; we are sending dozens of texts every day. While many of those texts could be automated or strictly utilitarian, the fact that most automated texts do not result in a conversation mitigates this factor.
Worldwide, about 4.2 billion people are texting as of 2017 (and the number has only gone up.) This represents more than half of the world’s population and still more people than have smartphones in the world. If you have a phone on earth and have service, you text, and it is as simple as that. In a smartphone filled with other apps, many of them extremely useful and nearly necessary, texting is still the most commonly used function.
However, what is the spread of people texting? Are the numbers being inflated by some users? Interestingly, if we look back to a survey done by Pew Research in May 2011, we find that the average number of texts sent or received each day went up over the previous few years.
Even back then, the data was clear that people are doing more texting every year, with a clear spike between Fall of 2009 and Spring of 2010. However, the same survey found the median number of texts per day was far lower than the mean. This shows that people, in general, were not texting more, but the people who texted the most were texting even more than they were previously.
Interestingly, the same source shows young people text the most, beating out every other group as shown below:
Again, these numbers were from 2011, but they only stand to increase and adjust now as people entering middle age have become used to texting, messaging, and smartphones. In the United States in 2014, the average person sent 32 texts each day.
Looking at a different resource, we cannot necessarily determine the exact amount of texts sent every day. Yet, we can see how many texts were sent in total in the United States, and just how much that has increased.
So what do we think of as a text message? Is it simply something from an SMS protocol, and not something like a Snapchat message, a quick message sent on Facebook, or something else?. What about pictures that we send each other? If we give the picture a caption, should we categorize it differently? If a message sent on Slack or Discord is sent from a computer, is it different from sending it on our phone? Cell phones have become so advanced that the lines have blurred to a degree, and while the argument is mostly semantic, to get accurate data, we must sort out these distinctions.
The answer is, for practical terms, absolutely, at least those sent on cell phones. They serve the same general purpose, use much of the same technology, and come from the same devices. In most cases, the same app that we do other messaging on can become our default SMS app as well.
These app usage stats can tell us a lot as well:
That being said, SMS is still by far the most popular messaging option used worldwide, and will not be going away anytime soon. Other services might be censored or might not be available in certain countries, limiting their usefulness.
How both people and companies use texting in the future might be linked to one simple fact: people check their text messages far more than they might check other forms of communication. Unless you already know who it is from and that you aren’t interested, if you see a text you are likely to open it. That certainly means texting can be far more valuable to people who need to make sure they are heard or get a response. You probably have noticed it in your daily life and interactions.
About 98 percent of people open and at least scan a text message, and 45 percent of SMS messages get a response (this is far more than email or most other forms of communication). We read most SMS messages within a few seconds. Given how protective people are of their phone number compared to their email address or some other forms of contact, people will naturally think there is a reason for someone contacting them or it is someone they know and want to hear from.
On the business side of things, texting is becoming more valuable for companies, even after the initial wave of automated texting when cell phones were becoming common. People respond to offers via text, and 50 percent of people in the US that get branded texts make a purchase in the future.
While we do not expect companies to bombard people with coupons and offers via text uninvited (lest they suffer a swift block), customer service via text will become more common, and people might look to get quick help via text. The recent pandemic has forced companies and people to come up with more out of the box solutions for customer service, regular service, and delivery options.
Now that we have the numbers for today and some texting numbers from the past, what can we expect from the future? Now that everyone has a smartphone and texting is easier than ever (we barely even think about it), what will the numbers say and what will we do about them?
Depending on how you look at it, things could go one of several ways:
Researchers, futurists, and other interested parties will all be investigating this question and the possibilities, likely trying to take advantage of whatever the results may be.
Texting, or variations of it, are going to become increasingly important in the coming years. Recent times have shown us just how often we text and just how much we need it to keep in contact with friends and loved ones across the country and beyond. We hope this gave you an opportunity to reflect on your own use and that the results informed you and made a positive impression.