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Technology Untangled: Texting is not just for teens

Stephen Bour
February 3, 2010
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I must admit that until recently I didn't think much of using a cell phone for sending text messages. However, since I purchased a new phone, I've started to experiment with it, and I am surprised to report that I have found some practical as well as fun uses for this technology.

Texting always struck me as something for kids. It seemed odd to notice kids everywhere who were frantically poking away at the miniscule keyboards of their phones. If they had something important to communicate, why didn't they just call the person from the phone that was in their hands?

One of our court reporters began to text to communicate with the office. I would receive a text on occasion but still preferred e-mail or plain, old phone calls. Maybe one of the reasons for the preference was because I did not have an unlimited texting plan. Another reason was that my phone did not have a full QWERTY keyboard. Typing a response on an abbreviated keyboard with each number representing 3 or 4 letters was slow and clumsy, even with predictive-text input technology.

When my cell service contract came up for renewal, I upgraded to a new Verizon phone, which included a slideout keyboard, and an unlimited texting plan. I do not recommend experimenting with texting without an unlimited texting plan because the charges can add up quickly with the "a la carte" billing method. With the new phone, I was free to experiment with texting and prove once and for all that it really was a waste of time ... or so I thought.

For business purposes, I started to notice that communicating via text messages could be very efficient. Text messages are necessarily short - about 140-160 characters max. This helps keep the message right to the point. You can send longer communications, as they are automatically separated into several shorter parts. Texting can also take place in situations where a phone call is impractical, such as during a hearing or a deposition. I found this particularly useful during a deposition I was videotaping that ran long; I was able to alert the right people without having to interrupt the taping. I am finding many situations where texting is more efficient than playing phone tag.

While texting can offer immediate communication, it certainly does not require an immediate response to each message you receive. This is becoming a major issue because of the problem of distracted driving. It never makes sense to type a text message while driving.

Pictures can also be included with text messages. This issue has been in the news because of the unfortunate situation of teenagers "sexting" each other with suggestive pictures. A more useful example of picture messaging would be for sending immediate pictures of an auto accident. I found it useful during the Christmas shopping season to send pictures of presents being considered for purchase. Note that the pictures that are sent within text messages are compressed automatically before sending. The original versions of the pictures that are saved to your phone when you take a photo are of higher quality.

Airline travelers can take advantage of another practical application for texting. The airlines, as well as travel services like Orbitz, offer automatic text-message updates regarding flight status. It is easy to sign up for these updates when making travel reservations on your computer.

I was intrigued by ads about getting Kroger coupons on your cell phone, as well as breaking news by text message. I had to check it out. By texting GROCERY to 22888, I was able to receive a Web link that allowed me to choose offers that would automatically be added to my Kroger card and be applied at checkout.

By texting INDY NEWS to 44636, I was able to receive immediate text replies on some of the top stories in the news. The service that provides this is named 4INFO. Text M (for Movie) and your zip code to receive a reply with shows and show times for the closest theater. Visit the Web site 4info.comto learn about many other free text services, although standard text-messaging fees with your carrier will apply.

I will admit that I have become a convert to some of the virtues of texting, but I don't expect it will become as vital a communication tool for me as it seems to be for today's youth.

Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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