As I was listening to NPR this morning, I was reminded how cell phones have changed the way we react to extraordinary events. On Monday, the Sichuan province of China was hit by a devastating earthquake. The 7.9-magnitude earthquake is estimated to have killed at least 15,000 individuals, but the death toll is expected to rise throughout the week. However, even in the remote areas ravaged by the disaster, cell phones enabled those affected by the earthquake to get in touch with their loved ones. In fact, according to the NPR story, “Phones Faltering, Quake Survivors Rely on Texting,” the first notification of the disaster came via cell phone.
More than 600 million people in China have cell phones. However, in the wake of the earthquake, instead of making the traditional phone call, most were choosing text messages as their primary method of contact. In China, text messages cost about half the amount of a phone call, and while most people do have cell phones, very few have voicemail. Additionally, in times of disaster when getting enough signal strength or connecting to cellular networks can be tricky, text messages can go through more easily and require less battery strength than phone calls. Even without the disaster, text messages are the preferred method of communication for most Chinese. In the NPR story, Alvin Wang Graylin, CEO of mInfo, a mobile search and advertising firm based in Shanghai, says China sends more text messages per user than any other nation.While this is a tragic time for those affected by the earthquake, at least there are some who can be comforted by knowing that their loved ones are okay, even if it is only in the form of a text.