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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Will Text Messages Become Obsolete?


I just met with a group of high school students and realized they’d experienced another shift in how they communicate with others. We were conversing about how we could stay in touch, and I suggested we could text. They smiled patronizingly, as if they were interacting with their grandpa, and offered another option.

Hmmm. Just when I thought I was caught up on contemporary culture.

“We don’t have a need for texting anymore,” one of them said to me. “We send pics. It’s a more interactive way of communicating.”

They’re right. Snapchat—an app that allows users to send photos to one another that disappear after a few seconds—has taken over many teen’s portable devices. So has Instagram. It may well be the future of phone interaction. Just like Facebook, once parents and teachers began to figure out how to use text messaging, students were bound to find new ways to communicate.

It wasn’t that long ago I reported to readers that teens today send about 3,000 texts a month, or about a hundred a day. That’s changing now. And not just for teens but for all ages. As a whole, people are texting less now than we used to. According to Chetan Sharma Consulting, “The average U.S. cell phone user sends about 628 text messages per quarter, down 8 percent from a year ago.”

Meanwhile, snapping photos has become the most widely used function of mobile phones, and it includes Snapchat, Instagram Direct, and Apps like Kik and Wikr.

Do you see the pattern?

The Power of a Picture

It’s visual. They are exploring the benefits of image-based communication. Often times, no words are even necessary. For example, texting the phrase, “I’m bored” necessitates a follow up reply, “Why are you bored? Where are you? How bored are you?” But sending that message over a photo of you sitting in an empty classroom, darkened and bland because you got a detention today—tells the story in an image.

Journalist Victor Luckerson suggests our world is going more digital and more visual. He’s right. Whether we like it or not, we are communicating more than ever before, but finding words less necessary and less compelling. Images are the preferred mode of messaging. NCAA football coaches are using images to call plays, snap counts, and formations; faculty are using video and other forms of visual aids; and major corporations are finding it less needful to use any words to convey their brand. Think of unique icons, such as Nike’s “Swoosh,” McDonalds’ arches, or Apple’s apple.

Months ago, I completed a research article called, “In Other Words.” In it, I attempt to explain the macro migration toward images as students attempt to communicate and learn. We are in a new day, where we must master the art of using images, metaphors, stories and other forms of visuals to reach students. It’s why our Habitudes® have been so effective, used now in over 7,000 schools and organizations. They are all about learning life and leadership through the power of an image, a conversation and an experience.

So, here’s my question: Are you going to insist on using the methods you’ve always used to teach, coach and communicate with young people? Or are you willing to acknowledge this swelling trend and apply what it’s teaching us?


  1. Timothy Lynn Burchfield on May 6, 2014 at 7:56 am

    I get the transition from voice calls and email to text. Pictures only? I don’t think so. Many texts get misunderstood because of how few words and letters are used. Some of my longest conversations have originated from a misunderstood text.
    Your example: “Bored” could be interpreted many ways that would facilitate a long unnecessary conversation. Bored with me, you, school, life. The list could go on and on with just a picture. Communication breakthroughs I am absolutely for. This might be a stretch.
    Got me thinking though.
    Thanks Tim.

  2. Picfriendly on May 6, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Visual communication is wonderful but there are also dangers to be aware of. Snapchat is also being used to send pictures that teens don’t want to keep, such as sexual pictures, violence, drugs, etc., but want to send. The issue is that teens do not understand that the pictures may not be permanent on their, or the receivers, phones but all pictures remain in cyberspace somewhere and these may come back to haunt them. This issue was first realized with Facebook photos that were deleted but could be accessed by companies when users were applying for jobs and other high-stake things. Snapchat is no different.

  3. Antone on May 6, 2014 at 8:28 am

    Interesting post today, Tim. And though pictures are a great way to communicate, one of the issues is that they are not always interpreted correctly because much of the interpretation is left to the viewer. Which is why I like what you are doing with your Habitudes – the picture is meant to be interpreted through a mentor or guide who is utilizing the power of the image to convey a great truth. That puts a premium importance on the guide or mentor because without a truthful or accurate interpretation, there may not be full or even accurate takeaway. Thanks for the great post today.

  4. D P on May 6, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    That’s why churches have stained glass – because the masses were illiterate and had to be told in pictures. That’s where we’re heading. Could we possible get any lazier than this?

  5. Frank Word on May 10, 2014 at 11:18 am

    So true Tim. Excellent post and awareness of the “new normal”. Those who don’t have college or high school kids or connections etc will not understand this. ?

  6. foxyforce5 on May 20, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    My friends and I already checked out snapchat, used it for about a month or so and just kind of fizzled out with it. It was kind of fun but will never replace texting.

  7. Guest on May 20, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    … my response…

  8. Guest on May 20, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    I just tried to post a picture as my response to this… don’t think it let me do it.

  9. Laura on March 5, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    I agree with the ever changing media that kids are using. However, as the mom of a freshman and senior in high school, my experience is that they change their format so they can get away from adults. I watched my older child go from facebook to twitter to instagram to snapchat and friends did the same. I could find friends on facebook or twitter but now they are making Instagram accounts private and using snapchat more. Wish they would just pick up the phone because that’s the most private form of communication next to a face to face! If I was in your situation the kids would have just given me their phone number to text them still. I feel as if twitter and text messaging will be around for a while and the other forms will rapidly change based on trends.

  10. Frank Smith on December 28, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Check faceboook statistics on views & engagements for posts with text only and those with photos. Teens are not the only ones quickly engaged or communicating via photo vs text. I find myself having this discussion at the small town newspaper where I now work. Engaging content must be more visual with photos & captions, rather than columns of straight matter & headlines. As a photographer, count me in!

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Will Text Messages Become Obsolete?