ATFMB – Text Messaging

On September 8, 2011, in ATFMB, by Patrick Hester

Welcome to All Things From My Brain.

Text Messaging.

Remember when text messaging was free?  I do.

The concept of the text message is a simple one – you have 140 characters or less to relay a message from yourself to someone else.  The message flies wirelessly from your phone, through the air and to someone else’s phone where they can read it.

Handy at conventions, btw.

It was so stupid a concept in the minds of the cell phone companies, that they considered it a throw away item and bundled text messages, for free, with the more lucrative cell phone plans where they could actually make some money.  After all, digital text?  That shit costs nothing, has no real value, and who in their right mind would type a message when they can just call the other party up and talk to them.

Turns out, the answer is: Everyone.

Despite media reports to the contrary, people aren’t dumb.  We see a deal when there’s one to be had, and text messaging was a deal.  Calling someone used minutes, minutes you didn’t have to spare.  You only got so many minutes.  Some were good during the day, some during the night, then there was weekend minutes, holiday minutes, international minutes, long distance minutes – minutes, minutes, everyone was obsessed with their minutes.  It even cost you minutes to call your provider to check how many minutes you’d used and how many you had left.

In short, minutes were a pain in the ass. (Still are)

But text messages – here was something cool.  One, they were free – Two, they didn’t use up any minutes and three, you could send and receive as many as you wanted or that your phone could hold, which was a lot – after all, they were digital text, and digital text didn’t take up hardly any room at all.

Text messages were the bomb.

As bombs go, this one went off with a massive explosion that had the cell phone companies reeling.  People were using text messages?  On purpose?!

Now, this is the funny part.  When the cell phone companies saw all the text messages that were being exchanged, they realized they’d screwed up.  Text messaging, it turned out, was valuable after all.  Only they’d started from a stance of ‘free’, and now they saw money on the table not being collected.  They had to change direction and change fast.  After all, this was digital text, and digital text cost money (suddenly).  So cell phone companies changed up their plans and what used to be free, became a special, extra-added charge.

It was the ultimate up-charge.  Everyone was hooked on text messaging, so they weren’t going to say no.  Plus, if something costs nothing (or next to nothing) to produce, then whatever you charge becomes pure profit.

Kinda like soda, or pop, or soda pop, or cola.  In the South they just say ‘coke’.  In the north, asking for ‘coke’ gets complicated…

You know how you go into the fast food restaurant and they always want you to add that drink for $1.50?  The cup costs more than the contents.  My cousin ran a video arcade back in the heyday of video arcades, and he used to tell me the stories of how yes, he made some money each time a kid put a quarter in a machine, but that the gold was in that cup of soda.  It was pure profit.  Pennies to produce, sold for $1 for a small, $2.50 for the extra-big cup, and he could hear the cha-ching every time he sold one.

(Side note: many ice machines are marketed based on volume displacement.  That is, the ice to liquid ratio inside of a full cup.  You can always tell when you are being cheated (in my humble opinion) based on the type of ice in your cup.  Pellets are the worst.  Pellets will fill your cup completely, like a snow cone, so that a 32 oz drink has maybe 16 oz’s of liquid actually in the cup, give or take (I’ve never actually measured it except by the realization that my cup is empty way too quick).  Also, charging for refills – total ripoff move.  Uncool, dude.  Uncool.)

I distinctly recall my first text message enabled phone, and the conversation I had with the sales person at the time.  He explained text messaging to me, then told me that it was a goof, would never catch on, and had I considered yet how many minutes I would need.

Today, people are all about the text messages, less so about the minutes.  Because of all the smartphones with their email and their apps and such, the cell providers like to roll text messaging into data plans that cost as much, if not more, than the voice plans (minutes).

Texting has evolved over time.  As the cost of messaging has gone up, a streamlined language has even evolved, allowing people to say more with less.  Texting even served as the inspiration for Twitter, one of the world’s most popular social media services.

After nearly 20 years, texting is considered the preferred method of communication for millions of people.  I read something that said 74% of mobile phone users actively use test messaging.


I wonder what will come next.  (Please be telepathic communications and flying cars…)

Next time on ATFMB – Bottled Water.

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4 Responses to ATFMB – Text Messaging

  1. Always with the flying cars, Patrick. 🙂

  2. ganymeder says:

    Google Talk works like free texting. Doesn’t count towards minutes on pure smart phone plan, so that’s another current option besides Tweetdeck. 🙂

  3. John says:

    Some carriers include unlimited texting in their plans, so at least it doesn’t *feel* like you’re paying for it.

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