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Text Messaging: The Next Trend in Mass Communication

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Cell phones are so common nowadays that those who do not own one are thought to be behind the times. Cell phones are now even replacing landline phones. But a communication alternative exists—and has existed for some time—that has eluded even the most technologically advanced individual: text messaging. The technology behind text messaging, or SMS, is widely popular outside the U.S. In recent months, however, text messaging has caught on in the U.S., and its use is on the rise. Industry watcher A.T. Kearney reports that the number of people sending text messages in the U.S. has doubled since January. Still, the use of SMS in the U.S. cannot compare to its use elsewhere.

Text messaging has been the mode of communication of choice outside the U.S. for some time. J.R. Tillman, an actor and model in the Philippines, says, "People in my country prefer text messaging over calling each other." One of the reasons may be that airtime minutes are more expensive than each text message. Each text message has an average cost of 5 cents, while a call might last a few minutes, put you over your daytime minute allotment, and wind up costing you a few dollars. The text messaging phenomenon transcends all age groups. "My manager—even my mom—sends me text messages. It's as common as calling someone from your cell phone in the U.S.," says J.R.

Another reason for the popularity of text messaging outside the U.S. is that SMS was introduced earlier in other countries. Carmen Diaz explains that her cell phone, which is SMS ready, was released in Asian countries months before its U.S. introduction. Carmen has recently joined the text messaging craze and enjoys the privacy of text messaging the most. "Sometimes I don't want people listening in on my conversation, so I just text my friends instead" explains Carmen. She adds, "It's a great way to make plans [for] after class during class."

With the popularity of text messaging on the rise, text messaging devices have been developed to meet this demand. Most cellular phones are SMS-ready, and most wireless plans do have optional text messaging plans bundled with other features. For instance, with Verizon, you can send a text message for 5 cents.

But if you buy a text message plan, you can send 100 messages for just $2.99 a month. If you're in the market for a complete communication device, there are two options. Teenagers and young adults would be attracted by T-Mobile's Sidekick II, while corporate individuals might opt for a BlackBerry. Lloyd, a sales associate for T-Mobile, says of the Sidekick II, "The Sidekick is Internet-ready and perfect for text messaging." The Sidekick II also comes with a camera phone. You can take a picture and view it, much like a digital camera, "then you can email the picture to a friend in less than 10 seconds," says Lloyd. The BlackBerry "can be linked to corporate servers," which, according to Lloyd, will appeal to all businesspeople. The great thing about these devices is that they double as cell phones and PDAs. Expect to pay about $200 for the Blackberry 7100 and anywhere from $60 to $80 a month for wireless and text messaging plans. The Sidekick II, having more features, costs more—about $250. You will save, however, on the wireless plans and text messaging bundles available.

T-Mobile offers 300 messages for $3 a month. That turns out to be 1 cent per message. If text messaging is all you're interested in, then maybe the AT&T Ogo is for you. The Ogo is made solely for text messages and email. The Ogo costs $99, and the plans are a steal at $17 dollars a month. The Ogo is definitely the low-budget option.

There are some things to keep in mind before joining the text message craze. Are you T9 literate? T9 is a text input code for writing messages quicker and easier. Although you can send text messages by typing each word, T9 codes make the whole process quicker and easier. Once you master this cryptic language and buy a text messaging device, you'll be ready to send out text messages to all your friends and colleagues.

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