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Is one better than the other? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

Long before personal computers and email, or cell phones and text messaging, if you wanted to contact someone and could not meet with them face-to-face, you wrote a letter, sent a card, or picked up the telephone and called them. How times have changed! Digital technology has certainly made personal communication easier and more immediate—although not as personal.

We still put pen to paper and write and send letters and cards (especially funny ones!), but perhaps not as often as we used to. Instead, many of us are likely to use our cell phone, tablet or computer to type out and send an email or e-card. Of course, we also still use our mobile phones to make calls, but these devices are used just as frequently, if not more so, to send a text message. Is one method—email or text messaging—better, or more appropriate, than the other for communicating digitally these days?

Although the origins of email are much earlier, it didn't come into more common usage usage until the mid-to-late 1990s with the introduction of email services such as AOL and Hotmail. Since then, it has exploded with the growth of digital technology. Email is very versatile and used by professionals and businesses, as well as individuals for all types of communication.

Email Pros:

  • Faster than regular mail for sending/receiving.
  • Good for more complex questions, news or discussions.
  • Eco-friendly, paperless communication.
  • Messages, both sent and received, can be stored for later reference.
  • Can be accessed anywhere there's an internet connection.
  • Makes it easier and faster to communicate with businesses and individuals overseas in a more timely manner.
  • Allows the sending/receiving of photos, documents and videos.
  • Enables a sender to send the same message to multiple recipients at the same time.
  • Easy to prioritize incoming messages based on subject lines.
  • Can send messages, documents, reminders to yourself.
Email Cons:
  • Requires an internet connection.
  • Open to viruses.
  • Can be hacked, spammed or spoofed.
  • Is not always opened/read immediately.
  • Can be misunderstood and cause a negative emotional response due to brevity or lack of verbal inflection or facial expression.
  • Can get buried in the volume of email received, or missed in "Junk" or "Spam" folders.
  • Less personal than a handwritten card or letter.
  • Needs to be constantly maintained due to volume sent and received.
  • Can lead to information overload.
  • Time-waster due to volume and pressure to check frequently.

Text messaging originated in the early 1990s but did not come into wide use until the middle of the 2000s. Early cell phone keypads made texting full words and sentences cumbersome and led to the development of a short-hand, "fingered speech" (as linguist John McWorter calls it) that is in common texting use. As mobile phone technology evolved with touchscreen keyboards, texting became easier, more efficient, and its use more prolific. The demographic that texts the most is the under-21 age group, sending and receiving an average of more than 1,750 messages per month. Usage among older adults, who tend to use email more, is growing for quick and easy contact. While not as mainstream as email for business use, text messaging is also beginning to be used in business communications as well.

Texting Pros:

  • Does not require an internet connection.
  • Good for short, quick communication that does not require a complex answer.
  • Less formal. It's writing more like we speak. Thus, the rules of writing (i.e., capitalization, punctuation, etc.) are often not followed. Texting also has created a new shorthand language and structure, such as the acronyms (OMG, BTW, LOL, IMO, etc.) that are spreading across other types of written communication.
  • More immediate. The read-and-response time is much shorter, generally, than email. Text messages get read sooner than emails, as individuals tend to check their phones more regularly.
  • Discrete – messages can be written and read in public areas without disturbing others nearby.
  • Capable of sharing photos and other types of attachments on smartphones.
Texting Cons:
  • Longer messages are not easily composed on digital "keyboards" or keypads.
  • Has size limitations. The SMS text-messaging structures limits the number of characters in a given message unit to 160 characters. Longer messages are broken over multiple units and might get out of order.
  • Messages might be misunderstood due to their brevity and the lack of voice inflection and facial expression. Brief answers can come across as rude or curt.
  • Less personal than face-to-face or phone conversations.
  • Can be distracting. The desire to read a text as soon as it arrives, as well as the expectation for an immediate response, means text messages can be a distraction. This is true in general when incoming messages interrupt thought processes or prevent the reader from paying attention to what is happening around them. Texts and texting are critically dangerous while driving, and considered rude and disruptive in social situations.

So, what is the answer to the question: Is email or texting better? There is not an easy, one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Each means of communication has its benefits and its limitations. It is up to the sender to choose which is the best or preferred way to communicate. It also, in some ways, reflects a generational divide. The younger the individual, especially teens, the more likely they are to choose texting as their "go-to" medium; while older individuals, especially Baby Boomers, might be more comfortable with email. However, if the sender wants the message to be read, they should choose the medium that the recipient is most likely to read and respond to. For businesses, email is predominantly the "go-to" form of communication, but texting is beginning to be used by some for business as well.

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