I can't tell you how many times I have been asked, "Did you get my text message?" My answer is always "No, I don't get text messages," which invariably produces an expression of confusion. It is as if I've answered them in Bengali.
You see, I have a strict policy against text messaging. Not because I am against the technology. Rather, I am completely appalled by the money-grabbing techniques of wireless carriers.
There are two underlying assumptions behind a question like "Did you get my text message?" First, it assumes that a phone number is for calling and texting. This assumption also presumes that I am even able to receive text messages (which is not the case). The other is that texting is an intregal method of communication.
Those assumptions are exactly what phone companies depend on.
If we all expect each other to receive text messages, and we all expect that people prefer to be texted rather than called, then we are all more likely to send text messages. And if we are likely to send text messages, the carriers can charge us monthly rates for doing so. AT&T, for example, has packages ranging from $5 a month for 200 text messages to $20 a month for unlimited. And by "text message," they mean any message sent or received.
This really irritates me!
The first problem with these text packages is that they are not transmitting huge amounts of data and potentially bringing down the infrastructure of AT&T's network. I have a $30-a-month data plan and if I sent that message through email, there is no additional charge. In fact, the email can contain a lot more data than a text message. It can include images and other attachments that are more problematic for the networks than small packets of text bytes. Perhaps there is a deeper technical explanation that I am unaware of, but this seems like a business move to me.
The bigger problem with these packages — the one that really gets under my skin — is how they treat sent and received messages exactly the same. If I have the plan allowing for 200 text messages, sending you one message reduces my covered messages to 199. If you respond, I am at 198. The problem here is that I am never offered an opportunity to reject your text message.
This is very different than the model around phone minutes. For example, if I have one minute remaining on my phone plan and I call you and leave a message in one minute or less, then my minutes will be reduced to 0 minutes.
If you call me back, and I am concerned about paying for extra minutes, I don't have to answer and I don't have to check my voicemail. I effectively have a way to protect myself from losing my precious minutes and incurring more expenses. I have no such opportunity with text messages.
Imagine a scenario where you just broke up with your ex who knows how precariously close you are to exceeding your limit for texts. Meanwhile, he/she has the unlimited plan. It is quite easy for your ex to spam your phone with text messages before you are able to block him/her, forcing you to pay for each individual text received after you exceed the limit. Ouch!
Finally, texting is a black hole. If someone calls my phone and I cannot answer it, that person will get my voicemail. If someone texts me and I don't get it for whatever reason, there is no indicator to the sender that the message was never received. They don't know if I ignored it or if I did not get it — hardly the best form of communication. It is akin to putting a message in a bottle and dropping it in the ocean.
All this has led me to a strict "No Text Messaging" policy. So, when people ask me, "Did you get my text message?" The answer is always no.
Daniel Jacobson is NPR.org's director of application development.