Why We Never Talk Anymore

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!