Did U Get My Txt Msg?: Graduate Students’ Text Messaging Uses and Gratifications

Did U Get My Txt Msg?: Graduate Students’ Text Messaging Uses and Gratifications

Cathy Marie Quast Sowa (Department of Counseling and Student Development, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, IL, USA) and Rodney K. Marshall (Department of Communication Studies, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, IL, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/ijicst.2012070103
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The digital communication revolution has conquered the college campus. Digitally enabled interaction allows users to share experiences regardless of physical distance through mediated relationships across various communication platforms and channels. Although cell phones have become a necessity for many people, research on text messaging use and gratifications is still emerging. The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine the frequency of text message use among graduate students and the gratifications achieved through communications transmitted via text messaging. Thirty-four graduate students at a Midwestern university participated in the study by recording the purpose of each text message they sent over the course of one week. Analysis of 3,082 text messages indicated that there were no significant differences between males and females in text message frequency or the gratifications obtained. However, half of the participants reported sending communications fitting more than one gratification for digital media use: the gratifications of socializing, coordination of schedules, information exchange, professional communications, and escape.
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The digital communication revolution has infiltrated and conquered the college campus. Observations on a typical college campus will reveal college students walking around campus using their cell phones for both voice and text communications. Mobile phone networks have expanded opportunities to connect with social networks in a multitude of ways. While early versions of cell phones limited interactivity to voice communications, the latest cell phone models combine a myriad of non-voice functions, including games, pictures, Internet browsing, music players, document readers, video recorders, and text messaging.

Text messaging allows cell phone users to send typed, textual messages to other digital communication users. The latest cell phones, including smart phones that run a Mac iOS or Android operating system, have a Short Message Service (SMS) function that allows users to send brief messages of up to 160 alphanumeric characters to either a cell phone address or an e-mail address. As more mobile devices become capable of cross-platform messages, SMS messages seem to have developed into a major interactive form of communication that can substitute for some face-to-face, telephone, and computer-based e-mail communications to make connections with others (Lenhart, 2010). Text messages have become very popular because of the convenience of communication at any place and time along with the ability to send communications quietly and almost instantly through wireless networks (Lenhart, 2010).

The accessibility of communication through cell phones has changed how people communicate with their network of contacts. Like instant messaging, SMS communication does not rely on a synchronous connection between users. Textual communication eliminates the necessity for immediate responses, and messages can be left for users who are not available. Many cell phone plans permit unlimited text messaging capability within the monthly cost of the mobile service. The capability to send SMS communication at any time or place puts users in constant contact with others or with data and entertainment on demand. Users can request scores for their favorite sports teams, download ringtones, obtain weather and traffic updates, and keep track of the status of their social contacts on the same device. “Perhaps more than any other digital technology, SMS messaging enables users to be physically in one place while at the same time they may be participating in an entirely different mental and emotional universe” (Leung, 2007, p. 126).

Eighty-eight percent of Americans own cell phones as of April 2012, including 75% of adults aged 18-24 (Smith, 2012). Seventy-two percent of adults use the text messaging function (Lenhart, 2010). Text messages are not limited to verbal communication. Some non-voice cell phone functions, including pictures and videos captured on the mobile device, can be incorporated within text messages to others. Younger users, especially college-age Americans, have adopted the technology quickly. Lenhart (2010) found that the amount of text messages sent and received daily averaged about 10 messages per user. Eighteen percent of cell phone owners in the 18-24 demographic received more than 200 text messages per day (Lenhart, 2010). The ubiquitous nature of cell phone use and text messaging has even caused concern for the classroom learning environment in colleges due to ringing phones and cheating on exams (Campbell, 2006; Wei & Wang, 2010). This anxiety may not be overstated given that 65% of users report that they have used the capability of communicating silently to their advantage (Lenhart, 2010) and more frequent text message users are more likely to text during class (Wei & Wang, 2010).

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