The Adventures of Joshua Judson Rosen
(action man)

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Sun, 16 Apr 2017

21:48: Cutting the Cord on SMS

To everyone in my phonebook with whom I've somehow got into the habit of communicating via SMS:

Effective 26 April 2017, I will be shutting down SMS messaging on my mobile phone service in favor of more functional, more featureful, more reliable, more broadly available, and just flat-out more usable Internet messaging using the standard IM system on the Internet: XMPP.

So, while you will no longer be able to reach me via SMS, I will continue to be reachable via XMPP at like I have been for nearly a decade now (my XMPP messaging address is the same as my e-mail address).

Communicating via SMS has always been an experience of multifaceted frustration, but the #1 problem that's leading me to `cut the cord' on SMS is basically that SMS is tied to A PHONE.

Most of the other issues fall out of that--for example:

  • in order to receive your SMS, I need to have one specific device on-hand
  • in order to read your SMS, I have to read it on that phone
  • in order to reply to your SMS, I need to write the message on a phone
  • in order to refer back to an SMS conversation, I need to remember which device I was using at the time, because I can only pull that conversation up on the phone
  • participants are identified in SMS only by phone-numbers; and when any of those numbers change, everything gets messed up
  • SMS doesn't give us any way of seeing whether the other party is actually `online', or even whether a message is received, so we just send them out into the ether and end up having to have secondary conversations about `did you get my message?'

The thing that finally pushed me over the edge on this was that someone said she `had no way to get a message to me' when I went to work in Boston without my mobile phone. In 2017.

It's 2017, and enough is enough. There's no reason at this point that giving up SMS should be a hardship for any of us.

We all started getting onto the Information Superhighway in the mid-1990s at the latest, and it seems like all of you even have mobile Internet access on your phones now.

Even the "mobile Internet on your phone" thing has been a reality for almost a decade now; mobile Internet is now such a commodity in the US that even the most basic service plans come with gigabytes of high-speed data included every month (well, except maybe for some very low-end prepay plans--where SMS generally continues to be orders of magnitude more expensive than sending the equivalent messages as Internet data).

It's interesting that SMS actually didn't even come into existence until after we were already Internet-connected: the trouble with Internet connectivity, back then, was that it was tied to stationary computers in houses or schools. So SMS was a huge step up in providing mobile messaging in the late 1990s, but its useful lifetime has basically passed.

SMS is in an uncanny valley between IM and e-mail: it's got all the quickness and reliable `instant messaging' of e-mail, all of the expressivity..., well maybe about half the expressivity of an IM..., and all of the text-entry ergonomics of a pocket calculator. If you have something more interesting to say to someone than 07734 or 5319009, SMS has been the wrong tool for years now.

Actually, I do think SMS is still useful for some things, but interpersonal messaging is generally not one of those things at this point.

There are some edge cases where human-to-human SMS might initially seem like it has value, but upon further consideration even those cases don't even make me want to hold onto it. Those edge cases are basically the geographies where the mobile-phone network provides SMS functionality but does not provide any level of Internet data connectivity and there are also no Wi-Fi hotspots to be found. I'm not going to deny that those places exist--because I still travel through those places at least semi-regularly. What I do deny is the idea that SMS is actually worthwhile even in those moments: if your message is actually so urgent that it can't wait until you're someplace with at least marginal connectivity to send it, then just sending it out into the ether of SMS with no idea when it will actually be received or responded to is actually not what you want, is it? If you have an urgent message for me, make a voice call--that's actually what the mobile phone network does best!

For everything else, there's the Internet.

So why am I cutting the cord to SMS specifically on 26 April? 26 April is my son's birthday. And I'm going to spend my son's birthday focusing on him, not on some annoying, marginal, legacy technology that offers few-to-no reasons to care about it anymore. And after that I simply see no reason to go back.

Many of you already have XMPP accounts, but in some cases it's been a while since we've communicated over XMPP, if we even ever did before now, so please message me when you see this to be sure that I have your XMPP address in my list of contacts.

If you don't yet have a favorite XMPP messaging app, check out Adium or Monal on Macintosh, Siskin on iOS, Conversations on Android, Gajim or Dino on desktop GNU/Linux, or any of the other zillions of compatible applications on pretty much every platform you could be possibly be using.