Remember beepers? What a horrible idea. We’ve come a long way since the days of having to excuse oursevles from the table at a lunch meeting because we've been “beeped.” We have entered the era of FaceTime, Foodspotting, and FourSquare. But who is using cell phones and what are they really using them for? A new study released by the Pew Research Center finds that not only has cell-phone usage skyrocketed among American adults in the past year, but it also provides a statistical breakdown of cell phone usage by age, income level, and ethnic background.
While teens and adolescents make up the bulk of cell-phone users who text, adults are beginning to catch up. According to the study, 72-percent of adults say that they send and receive text messages, which is up from 65 percent in September 2009.
Voice calling still appears to remain the primary use for most adults’ cell phones, and adult cell phone users were found to make on average five phone calls per day.
While adult texting is picking up, teens still leave adult cell phone users in the dust. The study finds that 87 percent of teen cell-phone users text, and while adults send and receive a median of 10 texts per day, teens send and receive a median of 50 texts per day.
And then there are the heavy texters - the ones who you hear texting in the bathroom stall next to you. Of cell phone users between the ages of 12 and 17, 15 percent text more than 200 text messages per day. That figure is even higher for 18- to 24-year-old cell phone users, 18 percent of whom send and receive over 200 text messages per day. The number drops precipitously for those over the age of 25, though. Only 3 percent of adult cell phone users over the age of 25 text over 200 messages per day.
The study also calls into question long-held gender stereotypes regarding cell phone usage, finding that 53 percent of women say that they make and receive five calls or fewer on their cell phones per day, while only 43 percent of men say the same. Interestingly, men outperform women in all cell phone usage-related areas. Men tend to make more calls per day and they have greater statistical representation among those who text over 200 messages a day.
One of the more interesting areas of the study concerns ethnic breakdown. According to the study, 87 percent of African-American and English-speaking Hispanic adults own cell phones, compared to 80 percent of white adults. Furthermore, 12 percent of African-American adults and 14 percent of English-speaking Hispanic adults make and receive more than 30 calls a day on their mobile phones.
What do all of these numbers mean? Cell phones and other mobile devices have come to take on an increasingly dominant presence in the lives of adult Americans, many of whom might remember the days of yore, when mobile phones were the size of phone books and not even worth carrying around.
“Texting among adults has reached the mainstream and the charge is being led by African-Americans, Hispanics and young adults,” said Amanda Lenhart, author of the report and Senior Research Specialist at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.
More and more, connectivity is becoming a staple of modern American life. According to the study, 91 percent of adults report that having a cell phone makes them feel safer and 88 percent like the convenience of being able to coordinate plans with friends and family.
But why, specifically, is texting becoming increasingly popular with American adults?
"It may be from the wider distribution of phone with keyboards - it may also be a network effect, where a tool becomes more useful the more other people use it, and so use begins to build and grow," Lenhart told me. "It could be related to pricing structures around text messaging - how cell phone companies make it cheaper to get unlimited plans, thus encouraging users to text more. There are lots of possible explanations and our survey doesn't really give us hints as to which is the most operative."
Some more fun facts:
- 65 percent of adults with cell phones sleep with their phones on or near their heads.
- 90 percent of adults with children have cell phones, compared with 72 percent of adults without children.
- 86 percent of adults find it rude when others text or repeatedly check their phones during a conversation or meeting.
As American adults continue to swim through the digital deluge, more and more they are finding that their cell phones are, ironically, their anchor.
Image source: wikimedia.org