Sunday, June 19, 2005

Text Messages and Other Cell Phone Topics

Apparently, 4.5 million phones were reported lost in 2004. I wonder if there's a correlation between phone loss and alcohol consumption?

Also, I've asked a number of my students how often they send text messages on their phones.. Elementary students generally were around 10 per day (higher if they were girls), and several middle school students said around 20 or 30, but one middle school girl said 100, and a high school boy said he sends 150 (!) every day. With numbers like that, 370 million doesn't seem a particularly high number at all.

[Original post]
According to an article in the Chosun Ilbo,

Koreans send and receive some 370 million text messages a day, and assuming that an SMS costs W30 to send, the country spends over W10 billion (US$10 million) a day on sending text messages.

The article goes on to explain how to save on SMS charges (though, at 3 cents per message, they're already pretty cheap), so we can imagine that many people aren't paying full price. I was initially shocked by the number of 370 million, but when you consider there are (acording to figures which are a year old) 36 million cell phone users in Korea (out of a popularion of 48 million people), an average of 10-11 messages per day is not an absurd figure at all, especially considering the habits of students, which have certainly been noticed by the telecom companies: "SK Telecom and LG Telecom introduced packages that allow adolescents to send unlimited SMS, while KTF offers a package giving users up to 500 free text messages a month."

I was curious how Korean text messaging habits compared to the world total, but estimates vary from 'over 1 billion' to 7 billion text messages being sent every day. Perhaps it would be more interesting to compare Korea's numbers to Britain's. 50 million British cell-phone users (out of a population of 60 million) send about 75 million text messages per day, which means that though Britain has 40% more users, they send about 20% of Korea's message total per day. Something to consider is that it's much easier to type in Korean than in English on a cell phone keypad, though I'm sure there are more compelling social or cultural reasons for the difference.

In a related story, on June 16th, the sports daily Ilgan Sports, reportedly sent pink slips to 23 staff members by text message. Of course, this isn't the first time people have been fired by SMS.

The way in which cell-phones are used as status symbols (I've had friends laugh at mine, even just after I'd bought it), and the desire by students for the latest model, guarantees a short life cycle for phones and therefore a steady market. According to the Korea Times,

Korean mobile phone makers release around 400 new models every year. According to U.S.-based tech consultant iSuppli, Korean makers provide more than 27 percent of 2,700 different cell phone models available today in the global market.

This turnover, which some consider the shortest in the world, is causing some environmentalists to wonder about the consequences of constantly buying new phones:

In South Korea, which is known for its short handset replacement cycle, about 10 million mobile phones in a year find resting places in drawers and closets since they can't be thrown away.

Last year, about 13 million mobile handsets were thrown away or replaced, but only 4 million were retrieved by wireless operators, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy.

Of the retrieved phones, about 2.2 million were exported or reused, the data showed. The remaining 1.8 million phones were incinerated or wound up in landfills, fanning concerns of a future environmental problem.

Beyond such environmental concerns, the ways in which cell phones are changing people's behavior worries some (and you need only look at how many people in any given subway car are playing with their phones). This especially applies to students; I can't count how many times I've had to tell kids to put their phones away in class. Obviously, authorities have noticed this, and the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has produced a leaflet on mobile phone etiquette for distribution to elementary, junior high and high schools. Sometimes I do think punishments are a bit harsh; one of my middle school students, in class at her school, lent her phone to a friend who got caught using it and had it taken away for a week. I'm sure a day or two would have made the appropriate impression on her. On the brighter side, at least he didn't hit her.

One last cell phone related topic: While Samsung has been celebrating itself by building statues to honour the mobile telephone (and Samsung) in at least 10 different countries, and the Chosun Ilbo has reported on Samsung and other Korean companies' increasing popularity in developing countries in Asia and elsewhere, Samsung has had to deal with a certain amount of unpopularity at home.

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