I have recently been trying out a lot of technologies to keep in touch with my son who has just gone off to college-- Facebook, e-mail at two addresses, instant messaging, Skype (with and without video) calling his room phone, calling his cell phone, text messaging, and snail mail. (And at the same time trying to stay unobtrusive in his new life!)
Okay, it's been a week now, and I think I have narrowed it down to the use of a couple of technologies. The combination that seems to work the best is a quick message in Facebook telling him to read his personal email, and text messaging.
Now, since he and I both have a smartphone (Treo 650 and Motorola Q), I did not have to learn the double and triple button push, and can type my text messages on the smartphone's built-in QWERTY keyboard. However, I see people texting much faster than I using a regular cell phone keypad!
What I really like about the text message is that it tells you when it arrives at its destination, you know the recipient will get notification of it the next time they look at their phone, and it is unobtrusive when arriving-- a short tone or just a pop-up versus a loud ringer.
(If my son and I are texting in real-time, after the 4th or 5th text message, we often decide to call each other to speed up the conversation.)
However, I guess the other thing I like about texting is that it reminds me of nagging...something I will have to outgrow now that he is at college, but a very hard habit to break!!!
If you are going to text others, here are a few tips to remember:
1. Most every cell phone user, by default, can send/receive text messages, unless they have requested the option be blocked on their cell phone.
2. However, every cell phone user does not necessarily carry a subscription to x number of text messages, and will be charged a small fee both when they receive a text message and when they send one.
3. Even with a subscription to text messaging on your cell phone, be aware that your cell phone company may charge you extra for text messages sent to users who do not have the same cell phone provider as you. Sometimes the subscriptions do include x number of text messages to users outside of your provider's network. Read the fine print and ask your friends who their providers are to avoid any unforseen charges on both your bill and theirs.
4. Text messages can be sent from a computer as an email message, but these messages are considered out-of-network messages for the recipient. You will need to know the provider of the recipient in order to address the message.
5. There is a limit on the number of characters for a text message. (i.e. Verizon has a maximum length of 160 characters.) If you go over this number of characters, you wind up being "charged" for sending two or more text messages, and so does the recipient, or the characters after the limit is reached are just discarded.
The address to use for sending a text message from an email client may look like this (check with the provider's site for verification)
Verizon email@example.com (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org)
Virgin USA email@example.com
In our school district, we found out during a major weather event last December, when all of the electricity was out and the cell phone towers were clogged, that we could still get text messages through via the cell phone, even though cell phone calls were impossible. We are considering asking all parents to provide us with both cell phone number and cell phone provider so we can exercise the use of text messaging if we have to use it in an emergency situation.
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