The Shift in Communication – Are You Ready?

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A couple of days ago, @RealtorMatthew posed an interesting question on Twitter

When do you think email will be obsolete?

My immediate response was, “it pretty much already is for my teenagers…” and several others chimed in on the discussion with similar thoughts. The general consensus was that email wasn’t going the way of the dinosaurs, but that “electronic communication” was evolving and changing.

This prompted me to take a look at what methods my daughter and son, ages 16 and 18 respectively, use to communicate in their daily lives.

Here is a breakdown of my families monthly cell phone usage for both voice minutes and text messages sent / received for 2010 year-to-date. I’ve also included an estimate of the volume of email each family member receives.

voice-sms-email-data-chart-all 
First, let me give thanks to T-mobile’s unlimited text and voice messaging plans…

Now let’s take a closer look at that data.

Yes, my teenagers have sent or received over 80,000 text messages this year. My daughter physically wears out cell phone keypads on a regular basis, but she hardly talks on the phone.

More remarkable to me however, is the combined 40 emails my two teens have received – this year. I get 40 emails by 10:00am, every day.

Put simply, other than for the occasional school project, they never use email.

Yes, this is a ridiculously small sample size – for all you math/stats/nerdy people it is nowhere near “statistically significant”. But if you ponder the data, and its implications, it’s quite fascinating.

Email Usage

Will email become obsolete? Probably not. Email is used extensively, worldwide. According to the Radicati Group, a leading researcher on the use of email, in their 2009 – 2013 Email Statistics Report (executive summary is here. I’m not plunking down $2500 for the updated 2010 version…), the number of worldwide email users is projected to increase from 1.4 billion in 2009 to 1.9 billion in 2013. They project worldwide email traffic will grow from 247 billion messages per day in 2009 to 507 billion messages per day in 2013, with 63% of that being consumer traffic and 37% business traffic. According to Radicati, North America accounts for “about 23%” of email use, so that means about 57 billion email messages per day are sent/received in North America.

Incidentally, 81% of that traffic in 2009 was spam (increasing to 84% in 2013). So roughly 10 billion non-spam emails are sent and received every day in North America.

That’s a lot of emails. And spam.

Text Messaging

CTIA-The Wireless Association reported on March 23, 2010 that 822 billion text messages were sent and received on U.S. wireless carrier networks in the last half of 2009, up from 740 billion in the first half of 2009. This amounts to just over 4.5 billion text messages sent or received daily in the U.S. You can of course divide that by two to get the number of individual messages sent. And to think, my daughter only contributes 377 of those each day.

That’s a lot of text messaging.

Back in the Dark Ages…

During my teenage years, I distinctly recall my Father begging, pleading and ultimately commanding my sister to get off the phone. Of course back then no one had a second land line, there were no cell phones and Al Gore hadn’t even dreamed of creating the Internet. The telephone and hand written letters (and maybe smoke signals) were about the only way to communicate.

So, What’s the Point?

Clarence Darrow once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.”

And communication is changing, swiftly. If you are a butcher, baker, candlestick maker, estate agent or any sort of business person then you would be well served to pay attention to this change and adapt your communication methods to reflect this shift. Sure, no 16 or 18 year old will be buying or selling a home this week, but they will be in just a few short years.

Kids – tomorrow’s home buyers and sellers – don’t really talk on the phone that much. (The bulk of my son’s minutes are spent running his business. He’s an entrepreneur of sorts who buys and resells phones, and fixes broken iPhones.) These youngsters are communicating electronically in ways that would have seemed magical just a few years ago. I’d love to add Facebook messaging and chatting to my stats table but I don’t know how to capture that data. Facebook is a significant communication tool for my daughter, but is non-existent for my son. Twitter? Both my kids think it’s stupid. I happen to find it a fascinating media tool and a reasonably good communication method.

I have clients with preferred methods of communication ranging from phone call to email to text message. Some even prefer communication via Facebook messaging or Twitter direct messages. I’ve had clients (younger clients) tell me, “if you send me an email, text me so I know to check it”.

It doesn’t really matter what my preferred way to communicate happens to be, what matters is that I reach our clients the way they prefer. If a client says, “text me” do you really want to say, “I don’t know how to do that”??

Who knows how communication tools and practices will evolve in the coming years. But evolve they will. If you don’t adapt, you won’t survive.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you see communication shifting and evolving. Got kids? Do they use email? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

For the Copyright Police – I purchased the right to use the “Evolution of Communication” cartoon.

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About the Author
Jay Thompson

I'm a real estate broker in Phoenix, Arizona and the publisher of the Phoenix Real Estate Guy blog. I tend to drive too fast and scream at the University of Texas and Denver Broncos football teams. My two kids are smarter than most adults I know and my wife is simply amazing.

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