I write from Sweden, where my ignorant American eyes are constantly being opened wider by how much text messaging, or SMS (define), is used for everyday purposes here. I have been researching the many and varied uses of text messaging and am sad that America lags so far behind in this. To be fair, the Swedes tell me that they and Finland are the leaders (due to Ericsson and Nokia) across Europe as well. I'm not sure if this is true, but I believe it. My first trip here was 10 years ago, and I remember how everyone had a mobile phone, while few people did in America.
Fast-forward 10 years. I'm impressed with how many uses the Swedes have found for text messaging. There's absolutely no reason America can't adopt these ideas and find other innovative ways to use it. In fact, I've seen prototypes in the States of some of these ideas, but even they are nowhere near mainstream as they are here in Sweden.
I've seen prototypes of this in America a while ago, but the idea doesn't seem to have caught on yet. In Sweden, there are certain vending machines you can text to buy candy. There is something gratifying about texting a code and watching Peanut M&M's fall from a machine. Honestly, it is what my phone was made for.
Mass Transit, Personal Transit
At the subway station entrance this morning, a man held his phone up to the guy at the window. After I asked a friend of mine, I learned that you can text a number to buy a subway or bus ticket on your cell phone. Then you show the number to the guy at the window and you go right through. It seems a little clumsy that you have to show it to the guy. I imagine one day there will be a reader of some sort you can just hold your phone up to. That seems more efficient to me. Still, it's a great idea.
Additionally, you can pay for a car park here via a text message. Seems a lot easier than using the machines you find at car parks in the States!
You can also buy train tickets via SMS. In fact, the train will send you an SMS to remind you of its schedule on the day of your trip.
Even the government here uses text messaging. Evidently you can do your taxes via text messaging. By all accounts, the tax system is easier than it is in the United States, but still, communicating with your government over texting seems like such a pipedream to me. When will we be able to vote this way?
Perhaps my favorite idea in the bunch is that you can bid on an apartment via text messaging here. You still have to complete the purchase in person, but this way you can buy an apartment while waiting in line to buy a train ticket. Unless, of course, you already bought the train ticket via a text message.
America Lags Behind
Yes, we have some good uses of text messaging in America. Airlines use it, Twitter and Facebook use it, and B&H Photo lets you track your packages using it. I even saw a club in Boston once that lets you text song requests to its DJ booth. Despite that, America isn't on the innovative side of this equation.
Step it up, America! I've laid out some ideas in previous columns on ways to use text messaging. I'm sure you have many more I couldn't even begin to imagine. The next time my Swedish clients come to America, I would like to impress them with how we are innovating the use of text messages.
Oh, and I am now completely addicted to lingonberries.
Until next time...
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March 19, 2014