Americans have been far slower to take to text messaging than Europeans and Asians.
Having lived in India until about six months ago I would regularly send about half a dozen text messages a day. On some days that number exceeded a dozen. Most were to friends (making plans for the weekend or simply asking what route to take to their house) and there were occasional queries from my bosses (when are you filing that story?). If I were to make a guess I’d say that so far in my six months here I have sent less text messages than I would send on a typical day in India.
Don’t get me wrong. Some Americans are very ‘text message savvy’ and send out many messages a day but on average, numbers don’t compare favorably with other nations. Text message savvy Americans still, on an average, send half as many text messages every year when compared to Europeans and only about a third when compared to the Chinese.
So why have Americans been slow adapters to a technology that in many parts of the world is having a profound social impact? The answer: mobile phone contracts that come bundled with a minimum number of minutes.
For a long time, mobile companies in America have made handsets cheaper by forcing users to take a one or two year contract. This includes a minimum number of minutes every month, and for messaging consumers pay extra. In the end consumers are left with little incentive to send messages when their calls are essentially free. In most other countries subscribers are on pay as you go plans. In this case, messaging is a lot cheaper than calling and so users have taken to texting in far larger numbers.
Still, there is some encouraging news. CNet News recently reported that Nokia and Motorola have plans to start selling unlocked phones in the US market. It should be interesting to see what happens to text messaging when people are not required to stick to a contract. Maybe then text messaging will truly take off.