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Will Texting Make the Phone Obsolete?

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The telephone as we know it -- or at least as we adults knew it -- may soon be a thing of the past. I'm not talking about smartphones -- they're really not phones, but pocket-sized personal computers with an optional voice function -- but I do wonder whether the idea of using any type of device to actually talk is likely to fade away or at least diminish?

That's certainly a conclusion one gets from the latest Pew Internet & American Life Project report that looked at the way teens use telephones. The study, Teens, Smartphones & Texting by Amanda Lenhart, found that:

The median number of texts teens send on a typical day rose from 50 in 2009 to 60 in 2011
14 percent of teens say they talk daily with friends on a landline, down from 30 percent in 2009; 26 percent of teens say they talk daily with friends on a cell phone, down from 38 percent in 2009. Clearly, voice is becoming a lot less important among young people, but the big question that the telecommunications industry has to ask itself is whether this is a function of their youth or likely to remain with them as they get older? It's probably too early to know for sure, but I'm guessing that these kids are forming life-long habits that will cause them to rely less on voice as they get older and into the work place.

Heavy texters are the heaviest talkers

Still, it is interesting to note that that teens who use text the most (those that exchange more than 100 messages a day) are much more likely to also talk on the phone. About 69 percent of "heavy texters" talk, daily on the cell phones, compared to 46 percent overall, according to the report.

Smartphones growing in popularity but PCs still dominate for Internet access

It is also interesting to see that nearly one in four (23 percent) American teens is now using a smart phone, with 31 percent penetration among 14-17 year olds. And there are no differences in cell phone use based on race, ethnicity or income. The study did point out that smartphone users are also more likely to have gone on online using a tablet computer in the past month (30 percent of smartphone users vs. 16 percent who don't use a smartphone).

Overall, 77 percent of teens have a cell phone which is actually down slightly from 2009. Only 6 percent of teens use location-sharing apps like Foursquare, which allow them to "check-in" to a location. Nine percent of older (14-17) teens have used location apps compared to only 1 percent of 12-13 year olds.

And when it comes to accessing the Internet, 88 percent used a desktop computer compared to 49 percent who used a cell phone. Next comes MP3 players or iPods (34 percent) followed by game consoles (30 percent) and tablets (16 percent).

Time spent?

One unanswered question is how much time kids are now spending texting or talking on the phone. When I was a kid, it was pretty common to spend hours a day chatting with friends via phone. But I wonder if kids are not only making fewer calls but also speaking for less time? Also, on average much time does it take to send and read those 60 or so text messages that kids are typically exchanging daily? In other words, are kids spending more or less time than before communicating electronically with their friends?
The study also found:

  • 63 percent say that they use text to communicate with others every day
  • 39 percent of teens make and receive voice calls on their mobile phones every day
  • 35 percent of all teens socialize with others in person outside of school on a daily basis
  • 29 percent of all teens exchange messages daily through social network sites
  • 22 percent of teens use instant messaging daily to talk to others.
  • 19 percent of teens talk on landlines with people in their lives daily
  • 6 percent of teens exchange email daily

The study was based on telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 799 teens ages 12 to 17 years old and their parents living in the continental United States. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percent.

For more, see my ConnectSafely,org co-director Anne Collier's post at NetFamilyNews.

This post also appeared on Forbes.com and SafeKids.com.

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