cell phones

The proliferation of cell phones and enthusiasm for texting, especially among young people, have had a wide range of impact. It’s not all idle chit-chat. Police know, for example, that raiding a college kegger is more difficult because one person who spots officers congregating in a neighborhood can get the word down the street by texting silently and undetected.

Texting also can work for police. In the Netherlands, police were the first to issue text alerts routinely for citizens to be vigilant if something is awry—like a kidnapping or a robbery in progress.

Political organizers have found texting a superior 21st century substitute for bullhorns. It is thought, too, that texting campaigns have turned elections in several countries. Backers of Philippines President Joseph Estrada blamed his ouster in 2001 on what was called a “smart mob”—a group of people who act in concert through notification via text and social media.

The United States is hardly the leader among nations in the rise of texting, but the U.S. data are staggering nonetheless. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 83% of the U.S. population owns a cell phone, and 75% of cell phone owners text. Texting has overtaken telephone calling as a primary form of communication, particularly among young people between the ages of 18 and 24, who send about 110 texts on an average day (around 3,200 texts per month!).

Texting is currently being integrated into a number of social media applications that have added private messaging functions. For instance, Facebook has integrated private messaging (PM) into its web application, but has a separate app for mobile users. Twitter also allows users to send private messages, as does Instagram. The limitation, of course, is that users can only send PMs to other users, whereas mobile- phone-based texting can be used to send messages to anyone, as long as they have a mobile phone and a texting plan with their cell phone provider.

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