AJ Dimas-Lehndorf October 4, 2016
How often do you call up a friend to ask them a question, ask about their day, or show them a “dank” meme? The answer for most people is rarely. Of the major things that people do with their phones, they spend the least amount of time actually making phone calls. People simply prefer sending a written message as opposed to calling or meeting in person. There are three digital media with which we can communicate written messages: email, SMS, and instant messaging.
When I was a child, I never thought that I would end up using email, but now that I have had adulthood thrust upon me, it has become a part of my daily life. As a medium, email has matured. Compared to other media it is better suited to formal, long form communication. It really is, as the name suggests, analogous to real-life mail; messages are structured like letters, files are attached to the letters, and solicitation is a real problem (pro tip: don’t give your email address to Best Buy, Coach, or the Liberal Party of Canada). For formal communication, there is no better medium, thanks to its ubiquity and traditional style.
SMS, or text messaging, is a medium to exchange messages between cell phones. SMS is fast and direct, and can be used without a data connection. There is a 160-character limit, but most smartphones will separate them into parts and stitch them back together for you. If you wish to communicate anything other than text, Multimedia Messages (MMS) cannot transmit much information, so photos are limited in quality and quantity. Market research also shows that SMS use has been declining in most markets for a few years now.
The decline of SMS is largely due to the rise of internet-based messaging services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat (to a certain, strange extent), and Blackberry messenger (may it rest in peace). Apple’s iMessage has always and will forever be dead to me because it’s proprietary and I’m not about perpetuating inequality and feigned innovation. These apps feature the same informal, conversational style of text messaging, but are faster and more versatile. They are also good for including more information, like time sent, delivery status, location data, and are able to include a wider variety of media, like GIFs or Bitmoji, in bigger quantities.
Which medium is best? Well, SMS isn’t very good at anything, so it’s down to just email and instant messaging. The answer can be found in the message that you would like to communicate. Email is more formal, and can be more complex, while online messaging services are quicker and more conversational.
Companies have become very clever with both media. Emails can address you by name and have pretty graphics and useful links. Online messaging platforms allow you to have one-on-one conversations with customer service representatives. The latest shift is towards artificially-intelligent “bots” that you can talk to. They are currently being developed by companies like Google and Facebook, and they will allow people to talk to a computer to get information from a company, or do things like order a pizza. Hopefully, these “bots” will be much less irritating than that laptop in India that answers the phone whenever I call Scotiabank. In the future, you may never need to call a hotline again.
In summary, there are many media through which we can communicate, and choosing the right one is really a question of what we want to communicate.