Text messaging: The 20th century technology that just won't die

Summary:Text messages used to be everything to the Generation Y. Though millions are sent each day, is the humble text message's shelf life about to expire?

Text messaging used to be the be-all and end-all for the Generation Y.

Back in the days where the Nokia 3310 reigned as the top phone, used by every kid in the school playground, it was the most powerful, friendly phone on the market.

Not a single kid used the phone to actually call people. It was too expensive for our meagre pocket money allowance . Calls only came through when parents wanted to see where you were in time for dinner. Texts were 10 pence a shot -- or if you were lucky, and using the  brand new breakaway mobile network -- all of 3 pence.

But over time, simple phones developed plug-in cameras, polyphonic ringtones and multimedia messaging. Cameras were then built into mobile phones and before we knew it, WAP had died out and our phones had colour screens and even email.

And then the twenty-first century happened, and everything changed.

Now with the vast swathes of social media, and all other forms of one-to-one and mass communication -- even Skype and video calling -- the text message has arguably become obsolete. Yet, having said that, it is still used by nearly a quarter of the world's population.

(Image via Flickr)

Though Facebook Messenger wants to rid the world of text messaging for good, one of its crucial functions to increase its 750 million following is using the obsolete technology itself.

Text messaging still rakes in millions of dollars in revenue for U.S. mobile network operators. Operators arguably make more from data plans -- which seem to be overtaking the text messaging ratio.

People use more data nowadays than they do in volume of text messages. Having said that, data under a set limit per month is free and inclusive. Text messaging is the same. I get 750 text messages a month. I would never, ever reach that limit. On the flip side, I struggle to use any more than 500MB per month on my data tariff -- even with the vast bulk of socially connected applications and data-hungry features on my BlackBerry.

But the reason why so many people use text messages still -- particularly younger people -- is because it is an always-on, reliable form of communication. Sure, the very vast majority of the Generation Y use Facebook -- but it is a closed system. You can only communicate by mutual agreement of 'friendship' -- whatever that is, nowadays; arguably watered down through this technological revolution.

But text messaging is still there. You cannot turn it off. You are barely restricted by it. If you can say what you want in a tweet, then you are lucky to have an extra twenty characters to play with in a text message. Add a smiley face or a few kisses.

The two basic functions of any phone is to make calls and send texts. That's it. There is barely a network-connected mobile device on the planet that does not send or receive text messages.

But as data-hungry applications, from instant messengers to social networking applications take over, there is no doubt that the days of the text message are numbered.

Arguably, one can say the same about email. "If we have Facebook, why do we still have email? We have Facebook email, after all". Just because something appears to do more than what a previous technology did, does not mean that the technology is automatically discarded.

Text messages may be obsolete, but they are yet to become truly redundant. For now, I see text messages as 'the ultimate fallback'.

While they still offer purpose, even if they are relegated to the ranks of the 'last option available', then I see no reason for them to fall into the floppy disk category of dead technologies.

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Topics: Mobility, Collaboration, Hardware, Social Enterprise, Telcos

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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