While browsing the web at home, I saw the “Why we don’t get the (text) message” article from Paul Kedrosky in Business 2.0. It begins with “Texting is insanely popular overseas, but practically nonexistent in the United States – for now. That just means we’ll have to import the best tech from abroad.”
I disagree: the reason why SMS messages are not popular in the U.S is not related to technology or money. It has to do with things that cannot be easily imported or bought: lifestyle and culture.
SMS usage is not a matter of critical mass in Europe. When I lived in Paris, the reason why we used SMS was because it was cheaper than (voice) minutes. It was cheaper because in France, you can’t call a friend without spending 15 minutes on the phone. In France, some people hated SMS but the younger generation embraced it, partly to save their budget.
In Japan, we noticed that people of all age were typing on their phones in the subway. It’s not only because they are more tech savvy than the average American (-they are-), it’s also because in Japan it is considered very rude to talk on the phone in public transportations. You have to realize that in Tokyo it’s very common to spend 2 to 4 hours in the train each day. Under these conditions, using the phone to text (or play, read the news…) brings a lot of value to one’s life.
Now, I look at my daily life in California: I probably text only 50 times or less each month. And here’s why: I’m either in front of a PC or in my car with both hands on the wheel. I believe that it’s true for most of my friends too. There is just little time to use SMS.
The key for SMS is “value”: in the U.S text messages don’t bring the same value than they do elsewhere. If we don’t feel a need for it, we won’t use it – it’s as simple as that. This has nothing to do with (importing) technology. SMS is the most basic technology in your phone –arguably easier than voice itself-, that is why wireless carriers love it: the gross margins on text messaging are said to be above 90% – yes, that’s a fat milking cow…
I don’t think that we should feel that “we’re behind” because we are not using texting as much as other countries, it’s OK. After all, we also don’t use as much “Bicycle Technology” than China, and it’s probably a good thing. If we feel that we don’t need it, we shouldn’t care about it.
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