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Why We Never Talk Anymore

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While perusing some Nielsen mobile trends data this morning, I was prompted to check my phone bill, and found that I’ve been using less than 500 minutes a month for past six months. Wow! We really don’t talk anymore!

In the last few decades, our daily modes of communication have changed entirely — from voice to increasingly text and hopefully soon video based methods.

As a kid growing up in a middle class neighborhood in Delhi, when our family got a phone line, the neighbors lined up and congratulated us for being so lucky. It was a sign of us moving up in life. Even thought there was a tiny lock and key on the rotary dial pad, my social circle suddenly expanded.

I can distinctly (and fondly) remember my early days as a reporter. I constantly had an old fashioned phone crammed between my ear and my shoulder that gave me a pain in the neck. This was long before cell phones became commonplace and freed us from the office.

It all changed when I got a cell phone in the late 1990s. Sure enough, I got rid of my landline, and slowly my behavior changed: I started sending text messages more often. Initially, they were cheaper than voice minutes, and soon it became a habit. Today, I cringe at the idea of a phone call. Blame it on poor quality of the cell phone networks, but voice isn’t much fun. Instead, I’ve replaced what was a standard mode of communication — phones and faxes — with newer, Internet-based communications.

Despite their noisiness, email, instant messages, Twitter and Facebook are more appealing. As other people migrate to them as well, they are even more so. When I actually have to talk to someone, I can call, and for that I almost always use Skype, since it’s on everyone’s desk (so to speak), and is mostly free. All business-related calls are made from that account, making it easier to free myself from the office.

So what do I do with my mobile phone? Well I use my BlackBerry Bold (s rimm) for sending emails and instant messages via Google Talk (s goog). For text messaging! Unlike my regular Rolodex, I have the 150 most important people in my life programmed into the device.

From our GigaOM team to my siblings, parents, a dozen odd friends and close business colleagues, these are folks who are part of my daily life. Since everyone is so busy doing their own thing, I end up texting them (and vice-versa), and only rarely picking up the phone and calling them. Text messages get their attention and get me a quick response. When I call them, they know it is important enough to pick up the phone.

According to the Nielsen Company, folks below the age of 24 text more often than using voice calls, with older people using more voice in correlation with their age. As more and more mobile natives grow older, we’ll see text usage increase. Why not? It’s immediate, simple and easy. More importantly, it has the intimacy of voice and efficiency of email. I bet in a few years, SMS will still be going strong, and voice will be replaced by something new entirely!

30 Responses to “Why We Never Talk Anymore”

  1. Stephen

    I’ve found that email has been the real (gradual) killer of voice calls in the workplace, more so than SMS. When I first started work a decade ago, the phone rang non-stop and email was easily manageable. Nowadays, the office phone barely rings at all and the stream of email never stops. Most of my colleagues and clients use email for pretty much every kind of communication, and only use the phone when a real urgency or emergency arises (and even then, they try IM first if that’s an option).

    One side-effect is that this forces people to consider their words more carefully. You can deny having said something in a private conversation, but email (and SMS) creates a permanent record of every word you say….I’m not sure if this makes us more honest, or less so.

  2. This chart certainly reflects the usage differences between myself, a 44 year old woman, and my 19 year old daughter. She texts a lot…in order to go and spend time with her friends. I don’t have the same freedom to party to all hours so phone time is used to keep up with friends during the week. Another commenter pointed out it would be interesting if night and weekend minutes were reflected, that is the more telling usage indicator I believe, par in this chart particularly if you are interested in my actual cell use once I leave the office and this nice landline on my desk.

  3. Srini Raghavan


    Very insightful post and fortelling. That the mortals rely on Facebook, Twitter, texting or on VOIP providers for most voice needs should strike cold steel into traditional carriers and prosumer voice providers.
    Where do you think this trend would leave the traditional voice companies including enterprise voice?

  4. All this shows is that text messages are popular with kids. Duh! Take out text an everybody talks about as much as everybody else with younger people talking more ran older people. Duh! This all means what?

  5. I completely agree. Text frees up the time for multi-tasking, and we’re almost always in the midst of doing something. You text, then sit back and continue with what you’re working on knowing you’ll get a reply later on. We rely so much more on text, instant messaging, emails and updates to get our messages across. A phone call these days amounts to something more immediate than texting, say, when you’re picking your friend up for lunch and you call to say, “Hey, I’m downstairs.” And even then, sometimes you’d just text that message, and then surf facebook on your device while you wait.

  6. Love the article. Mobile trends have always piqued my interest. However, I am not sure text can ever capture the emotions of voice. I find myself in many occasions where a text conversation can turn awry when you think you are describing feelings adequately but the person you are texting does not understand the emotion you are trying to get across… Emoticons and smileys can only go so far in simulating emotion…

  7. It’s an ever shifting landscape.

    I find myself making more SKYPE calls from my laptop, than voice calls from my mobile (no landline). Now, as my mobile has more VOIP options, I may start using it for voice again (and, reducing text messaging).

    “Video” is really “voice” with a picture. It’s enhanced voice and may signal a return to spoken communication (with an image to accompany it).

    Between VOIP and Video; as well as more Speech Recognition apps, that return us to speaking to our phones, it may be that there is a wild swing back to Voice. That said, the generation coming up (12-24) are so accustomed to Text based communication, they may never experience actual conversational engagement with their mobile. Sadly, they’ll lose a range of social skills in the process.

  8. now when we no longer need them we finally get widespread availability of unlimited calling plans. so i suppose if we cut back on our data consumption we will get unlimited data as well?

  9. I find it interesting that even if we wanted to talk on the phone, people with AT&T in San Francisco and New York can’t even do so on their mobile. I agree that voice calls are less important today, but with today’s technology shouldn’t the networks be strong enough to make a call? With video chat being the next big thing, we really need to work on infrastructure to make sure we can handle the many different modes of communication.

    • Hi jennalanger, when was the last time you used AT&T in New York? I use an iPhone and work in Midtown Manhattan and never drop calls, also data speeds have increased greatly recently, please check your facts before making blanket statements.

      Take care……

  10. Your article reminded me of my childhood days growing up in Fiji, I remember in order to call relatives in USA and Canada, we had to place the call with the local run telephone provider who would then call us back anywehre from a few minutes to as long as an hour to connect the other party abroad. Back then Fiji did not have direct dial facilities.
    Wow, we have come a long way and we now have many different ways to communicate, Like you, I also drop text message to friends instead of calling just to see what they are up to and to catch up with them

  11. Good points and fair observation. I don’t text message much but I do most of my on-the-go communication through Google Voice (integrated through a Chrome extension and my Nexus One) and through email/google talk mostly.

    I would be curious, though, what your total talk time looks like when you add your cell phone minutes + nights and weekends + Skype (ie. total talk time). I rarely use my cell phone during the day as I talk to people with Skype or in person, so my cell phone is more often used during nights and weekends so I seldom use all of my 500 whenever minutes on T-Mobile.

  12. Interesting and the exact opposite of what we are seeing with our NRI customers. As the cost of calling India keeps getting cheaper, we have seen the number of minutes our customers spend calling India increase from 600 to 1000+ minutes a month over the last 3-4 years.

    I am sure there are plenty of demos where the number of minutes used a month keeps dropping, but voice is not dead everywhere. Plenty of people would rather make a phone call especially while on the go. About 80% of international traffic into India goes to mobile phones, and most of that originates from mobiles on the other end.

    Give your mom a call Om, I bet she misses hearing your voice!

      • Lucian – India is behind the curve on what? Texting/SMS was more prevalent in India even before it was in US. And India had the advantage of jumping to GSM even before it had wide-spread adoption in US. I think what Chris is reflecting is even more deep-seated. Yes – when you talk back home – especially parents – you call, not text!

        On a broader note … there is an opportunity to organize the text messages on the phones – as messages increases the likely hood of missing them increases significantly