If it seems like U.S. adults can't possibly text anymore than they already do, maybe it's because they can't. According to a new report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, texting frequency among adults in America over the past year has leveled off.
The typical American adult sent or received an average of 41.5 text messages a day in 2011, precisely the same number as in 2010, according to the report, Americans and Text Messaging, which was released on Monday.
The number of calls made over cell phones has also remained constant over the past year: The average adult cell owner made or received an average of 12 calls on his or her mobile phone per day.
While the findings suggest that texting and cell phone use among American adults has normalized to a degree, Aaron Smith, the author of the study, warned against concluding that the market is saturated.
"Partially it's that people have reached a natural plateau in terms of how much they’re wiling to text," said Smith. "I think more to the point there's a natural level at which people like to text and over the course of a year or so that may not change that much, but I think if you were to measure this over several years you might see a bit more of a difference."
Also consistent with last year's findings was the number of adults who said they regularly sent or received texts: about three-quarters of the 83 percent of American adults who own cell phones.
The survey explored the preferences of cell phone users, as well. Thirty one percent said they preferred communicating by text to talking on the phone, while 53 percent said they preferred a voice call. Fourteen percent said their preferred mode of communication changed depending on the situation.
Not surprisingly, those who qualified as "heavy" text-message users (50 or more texts sent or received a day) said they preferred texting to speaking on the phone by 55 percent.
Age played a major role in predicting a person's cell phone habits. Young adults - defined as those between 18 and 24 years of age - were by far the most avid texters, sending or receiving an average of 109.5 messages per day. The typical or median cell owner in that age group sent or received 50 messages per day (another number unchanged since 2010).
The question remains whether young adults will carry their heavy text messaging habits with them as they age, or mature into less-frequent texters.
"As these young adults get jobs and they have more responsibility, as they have to deal with kids and all that, what is the implication of that for their texting behavior?" asked Smith. While he declined to make a prediction, he noted that lifestyle changes would not be the only determining factor. "The question is what other tools or applications will exist that do a lot of the same things that text messaging does today."
The survey was conducted by phone and included 2,277 respondents over the age of 18 from April through May of 2011.
Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.
May 22, 2013
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