It looks like SMS is turning us into nasty people. Or is it?
Freever, a European SMS content provider (and, incidentally, a candidate for world’s most graphic-heavy website) has just released a survey (PDF file) that shows Brits in a pretty poor light: cowardly, careless and sneaky. Here are some of the results:
- 51% of Brits would rather text an apology instead of phoning
- 38% prefer turning down invitations by text
- 45% of respondents have lied about their whereabouts by text message
- 46% prefer sending a text message rather than phone when running late
- 40% would rather text to let someone know what they really think of them
- 22% would text rather than phone to fake an illness
- 79% of people send a text when they feel it’s either too early or too late to call
- Over half of respondents believe it is acceptable to text while in a restaurant (56%) or in a cinema (54%)
- 13% admit to texting whilst driving
- 40% of Brits say they have disclosed a secret by text
- 22% admitted to bitching about work colleagues
- 28% admitted to secretly criticising friends by text message
- 71% of respondents have shared jokes with people via text message
- 51% have wished someone a happy birthday
- 31% of respondents text because it’s cheaper
- 26% text to avoid getting bogged down in a long conversation
But how good was the survey, and how much does it really tell us about the sociology of texting? I took a look at the actual survey, which you should be able to see here. The survey was carried out from October to December 2003, and required folk to respond to five questions online: 16,300 people across the UK responded 55% of them male and 45% female. In other words, there was no attempt to get a proper sampling of users; the folk who responded are the kind of people who would visit an SMS content website heavily geared towards young people.
I may be nitpicking here, but looking at the questions, I don’t think the survey is that meaningful. While two of the questions allow the respondent to add their own answer, the questionnaire otherwise allows only five options to each, and is somewhat slanted — the first, for example, goes like this:
1. Which of the following have you done by text message:
(You may tick more than one)
Lied about your whereabout [sic]
Shared a joke with friends
Bitched about work colleagues
Bitched about friends
Wished someone a Happy Birthday
Disclosed a secret
The results — 45%/71%/22%/28%/51%/40% — are perhaps less surprising in this light. Given the first option is the one about lying, the 45% figure is understandable. The other questions follow suit, undermining the survey’s usefulness, in my view.
Still, there are some useful aspects to this, and maybe I shouldn’t be taking the whole thing so seriously. For sure, SMS is changing the way we behave, the way we interact, and what constitutes acceptable behaviour. We may talk less because of texting, but we maybe stay in touch more. I for one would prefer to communicate by SMS when I’m working; it’s less disruptive. But for sure there are downsides: Getting out of something by SMS is not going to get you a lifetime membership of the Polite Society. And if I’m in a cinema and I catch you texting without the sound turned off, don’t expect leniency.