CU L8R , IT’S BEEN GR8 . . .
Led by teenagers, phone users are moving to free instant messaging services.
It became the preferred form of communication of the new millennium. Celebrities carried on their often embarrassing affairs over it, lovers were dumped by it and news of historic events such as the 2001 September 11 attacks spread on it.
Text messaging reigned supreme -- blamed for everything from wrecked marriages, to train crashes, to appalling punctuation. In its prime, at the end of 2011, Irish people were sending more than one billion texts every month, but in recent months the medium has plummeted in popularity.
Since the start of 2012, the number of texts has fallen by 30pc, according to the Irish telecoms regulator Comreg.
Led by teenagers brandishing smartphones, users are migrating to the 'text killer apps' -- instant messaging services that can be used free once you have a WiFi connection.
As one telecoms pundit put it: "It's been GR8, 1DRFUL and often LOL, but OMG, the text message appears to have finally passed its prime."
John Kennedy, editor of the technology news site Silicon Republic, says: "Really it's about more choices being available and cheaper ones at that. Teenagers were the mainstay of texting in its prime. Now they can choose free services such as Viber, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger to keep in touch."
Text messaging is now considered cumbersome and old hat, and sending pictures over mobile phone networks can be slow and expensive. Some of the new services allow several people to chat at once, and use video.
They can also pepper their messages with colourful icons and cartoon illustrations that are a good deal more elaborate than the simple smiley face.
The free WhatsApp service allows users to send texts, photos and video between each other for no cost
Viber, another instant messaging service, allows voice calls, group chats and video exchanges -- it uses your phone number as your user name, but there are no charges for those with a Wi-Fi connection.
Shane O'Leary, a Dublin-based digital strategist for advertising agencies, says the trend is likely to accelerate in 2014, and text messages will eventually become little more than a legacy.
"Many teenagers user are now more likely to pick up a Facebook or Snapchat message on their mobile phone than a text message.
"One of the advantages of a service like Facebook Messenger is that it is not just a two-way system," says O'Leary. "You could have a group communicating in a thread all at once. There is much more interactivity."
The most popular messaging craze of the past few months has been Snapchat, which is used for sending picture messages.
Snapchat has given rise to fears over rampant sexting for its signature feature, which is the automatic deletion of picture messages (or videos), seconds after they've been sent and received. It is very popular with teenagers, but it remains to be seen if it is little more that a passing fad.
Shane O'Leary says the rapid decline of text is being driven by the rise of the smartphone. According to the Google 'Our Mobile Planet' report, six out of 10 Irish people now have a smartphone.
"Five years ago, phones were mostly only used for making calls and sending texts on the phone network,"says O'Leary. "Now most people have smartphones, so they can do a lot more."
Every transformation brings new fears that children and teenagers are being exposed to an adult world too early and that has the potential to cause them damage.
Text messaging brought its own sense of alarm, but at least it was relatively easy for parents to track. Instant messaging may be harder to keep tabs on.
Teenagers using Snapchat may feel confident that their pictures disappear 10 seconds after they are opened, and believe they leave no digital footprint. However, the pictures can be copied and circulated with enormously embarrassing consequences.
Figures reported this week in Britain showed that four-in-10 teenagers send sexual messages or photos on their mobile phones.
"The problem is that many children are getting smartphones as young as the age of eight for their First Communion," says Niall Mulrine of the website cybersafetyadvice.com. "They used to cost €500. Now you can get them for €60.
"Many parents do not realise how much their children can do with these phones."
Niall Mulrine, who gives Internet Safety for Parents workshops in Donegal, says younger children should not have smartphones,
"With teenagers, there is no point in banning internet messaging, but they should be educated in how to use it safely. They should be told not to give out their real name, location or post pictures of their home on social media."
During the Noughties, the text message became the second most popular use of a mobile phone. The most common use, curiously, was to tell the time, and by the middle of the decade the voice call trailed behind.
While teenagers took to textspeak, as if it was a native language, middle-aged learners had more trouble adjusting.
We learned at the British Leveson Inquiry that Prime Minister David Cameron sent texts to News of the World executive Rebekah Brooks, with LOL at the end, believing it stood for 'lots of love' rather than 'laugh out loud'.
Teenagers may have blazed a trail with their move from text to instant messaging, but a British report on technology predictions by accountants Deloitte showed that the trend is not just being led by teenagers and geeks alone. Users of iPhones, popular in all age groups, increasingly use Apple's free iMessage service instead of text.
According to the report, the age of the silver smartphone has begun with a critical mass of over-55s moving to the new-fangled devices, as manufacturers simply stop making the simple voice and text phones.
Who knows? Within months, dads may be sending their teenage children Snapchat messages, rendering the medium permanently uncool. OMG. LOL.
THE TEXT KILLER APPS
Snapchat -- fast-growing picture-message service popular with teens.
WhatsApp -- Hugely popular instant-messaging service used on phones.
Viber -- Online phone and messaging, allows group chats and video exchanges.
iMessage -- Apple's mobile instant-messaging service, used on iPhones and iPads.
Facebook Messenger -- Convenient messaging increasingly used on phones.
WHY I AM GIVING UP ON TEXT
By Dylan Joyce-Ahearne
Like many people in my age group, increasingly I find that I am moving from texting to online messaging. I am also making fewer calls on the mobile phone network.
Once I have a wi-fi connection I can message people and call for free using services such as Viber, WhatsApp or Snapchat.
I find that texting is decidedly clunky compared with instant-messaging apps, which allow you see who's online, hold group conversations and send photos, videos, audio clips and doodles in a service more like social media than texting.
As well as causing a decline in use of text, some of these newer apps are also attracting people away from more full-on social-networking sites such as Facebook.
WhatsApp, Viber and Snapchat are functional while still being a "social" medium. There aren't profiles as such, but it's still more interactive than texting ever was because you're always "online".
The fact that it's free means you can be in constant contact and you can actually see that the other person is in the process of responding.
At the same time it's more private than Facebook or Twitter because nothing is attached to your profile, it's just your number.
As the first Facebook generation's children begin to access social media they won't be joining anything on which their parents have profiles.
Instant-messaging apps are the happy medium between keeping linked to everyone and online privacy, all for free.
- Dylan Joyce-Ahearne is the Features Editor at Trinity News. He is studying English and French at Trinity College