Wednesday, September 07, 2016

It's so funny how we don't talk anymore..

Retro house phones in a hotel in Los Angeles. May 2016.
I have rarely been without a mobile phone for the last 16 years of my life. When I first got one, talking on the phone was the thing I did most of. Mainly because that's what the devices were designed to do and I didn't know any different having been brought up with a landline where it was the height of extravagance to listen to the charts on the phone using Dial-A-Disc (no really, we did do that and you can read about it here). I also used the alarm clock every day. I occasionally used the FM radio and did a fair bit of texting - but I was ahead of the curve on texting back in 2000 as I was working for a company whose only focus was on SMS marketing. If I hadn't been working for ZagMe back then, I'm not sure I would have been as quick to embrace SMS.

Fast forward 16 years and I can count the number of phone calls I make each week on the fingers of one hand. And when I receive a phone call, it's such an infrequent occurrence, it can sometimes feel like an intrusion of my private space. With messaging of all kinds, be that email, Facebook Messenger or lowly SMS, it's asynchronous so I can reply as and when I choose to and it's fair to say, I'm overwhelmed with written communication much of the time - especially email. A phone call is in real time, hence the feeling of intrusion. And if I need to get hold of someone, calling them feels like I'm intruding into their day unnecessarily. Although, that could just be call reluctance.

I'm not alone in this. A recent survey from GiffGaff (sample size 1,500 adults in the UK according to their PR team) showed that not only are we Brits spending 3 hours a day on our phones, but that less than a third of us use our phones mainly as a phone for making and receiving actual phone calls. The UK is a nation of texters with 36% of the 1500 respondents stating messaging (SMS / Messenger Apps) as the main use of their phone. Browsing is surprisingly low at 16% and Social media at 11%. I'm wondering if the last two were under-reported?

Also of interest, depending on the device you own, your use of that device will vary. There were 13% of respondents who own a Nokia device and more than 50% of them said they used their phones for phone calls. Apple users (29%) were the least likely to use their phones to make calls and most likely to play games on their phone. I'm guessing many of the Nokia owners have simple phones that do calling better than anything else and that's why their owners bought them as they have no desire to push their finger around a glass screen aimlessly.

It's something I've been thinking about for a while now. This song that my older readers may recognise comes to mind, Cliff Richard's 'It's so funny how we don't talk any more'.

So what happened? How come we fell out of love with talking? I used to spend hours on the phone talking to my friends after school. Is today's teenage experience with messaging and social media as rich? Do we need to be encouraged to talk more with an updated version of BT's 'It's good to talk' advertising with Maureen Lipman playing Beattie?

Of course, this survey was UK specific so usage trends are likely to be different in different countries, and especially in countries where literacy levels are not as high as they are in the UK. And communication in any form is a good thing - whether that's written or spoken. 

The main impact of all of this, especially for marketers, is about understanding people's preferred forms of communication and playing to it. If I want to get hold of my Mum, it's a phone call. If I want to talk to my friends, it's probably Facebook Messenger. For business contacts, it's Skype or email. And if you really want to cut through the clutter, a hand-written letter will do the trick.

Much as I love written communication, I think there is still a place for voice. A friend called me on the phone the other day. She knew I was having a rough patch so she took the time out to call me. Like people used to in the old days. And I'm grateful that she bothered as it was a much richer experience than the equivalent in SMS or email would have been. I need to remember that and maybe pick up the phone more often, for you know, phoning people. 

Sometimes, it's good to talk.

Update: Slate has picked up on this topic too and published a very good article about it here. Well worth a read.

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