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Phones Faltering, Quake Survivors Rely on Texting

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Phones Faltering, Quake Survivors Rely on Texting

World

Phones Faltering, Quake Survivors Rely on Texting

Phones Faltering, Quake Survivors Rely on Texting

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90425687/90425654" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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People use mobile phones while evacuating a hospital in Xian, in northwest China's Shaanxi province, after the Sichuan earthquake May 12, 2008. When the quake hit, many people reached for China's most popular form of communication — text messaging. Imaginechina/AP hide caption

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Imaginechina/AP

People use mobile phones while evacuating a hospital in Xian, in northwest China's Shaanxi province, after the Sichuan earthquake May 12, 2008. When the quake hit, many people reached for China's most popular form of communication — text messaging.

Imaginechina/AP

The first word about the massive earthquake in China did not come from the news media. In China, some 600 million people have cell phones, and when the quake hit, many reached for them — but not to talk. Instead, they used the most popular form of communication — text messaging.

The earthquake in southwestern China was felt here in Shanghai. The city's ubiquitous high rises began to shake around 2:30 in the afternoon, and office workers poured out into the streets. Many pulled out their cell phones. A woman who would only give her surname, Li, says she started to text message her friends in Sichuan and quickly learned they were fine.

Li says now many of her friends are living in tents, and they can't recharge their batteries. So, she sends text messages because they require less energy than a phone call.

Alvin Wang Graylin, CEO of mInfo, a mobile search and advertising firm based in Shanghai, says China sends more text messages per user than any other nation.

"I have an aunt who is 67, and that's her preferred way to communicate with me," he says.

"It's really the preferred way of using your phone," he says. "In fact, I'll probably send somewhere around 20 to 30 SMS messages a day, but I'll make maybe five calls."

Graylin says Chinese prefer texting for many reasons. It's about half the price of a phone call. And almost no one in China has voice mail, so it's the best way to be certain that someone gets a message.

"It's a very practical tool, and it's very easy to use," he says. "It doesn't require any fancy phones. It works on everything, and it's very reliable — it's something like 99.9 percent arrival rates."