Americans Text More Than They Talk

Hardly breaking news, but I read in CNET this morning that Americans text more than they talk. The article cites a report from Nielsen that, in  the second quarter of 2008, U.S. mobile subscribers sent and received on average 357 text messages per month, compared with making and receiving 204 phone calls a month.

Perhaps there is a trend here towards more efficient technology-mediated communication. I know it’s a stretch, but this trend seems at odds with the claim advanced by NLP proponents that we strongly prefer natural language interfaces. Speech is surely more natural than texting, and yet we opt for efficiency over natural. Moreover, text messages are notoriously compact, shedding grammar and even vowels. It’s a bit early to extrapolate, but I’m curious where this trend will take us.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

2 replies on “Americans Text More Than They Talk”

The conclusion is premature; the CNET headline should have read “Americans text more *often* than they place calls.” I suspect the duration (and information content) of the SMS messages are substantially lower than the calls.


Fair point–the headline is trying too hard. And maybe I’m also stretching to make a simple point, which is that natural language is overkill for many tasks, from ordering at Starbucks ( to letting someone know you’ll be back in a few minutes ( Over time, I’d expect more utilitarian communication needs to favor lower-overhead protocols like abbreviated text messaging over natural language voice calls.


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