by Michael Shapiro | November 22, 2010

Over the past week I've been traveling a lot and checking my e-mail inbox whenever possible. In that time I received at least three press releases discussing the death of the telephone. Because I was overseas without a functioning cell phone, I suppose there was some amount of resonance in this news, even if that was overshadowed by the hyperbole. It seems surveys have found that younger people don't use the phone much anymore -- unless they're texting.  If you are in close proximity to any youngsters, or a young one yourself, anecdotal evidence likely supports such findings.
But it isn't only the young who aren't making calls anymore. One of the recent surveys on this topic -- use of the telephone and social media, specifically -- found that more than one-third of respondents of all ages are more likely to share good news through social media than by phone. That survey was commissioned by Sheraton and conducted by a third party, and the resulting press release didn't really harp on the demise of the phone, concentrating more on the rise of social media as a communications platform. A good thing, too, since that study surveyed 4,204 travelers in the U.S., U.K. and China -- by phone.  One would presume that means that at least 4,204 people answered a phone call to participate in the study.
Point is, the phone ain't dead yet. We just have more communications media from which to choose, and having different communications options at our disposal is of particular importance. The Sheraton-commissioned study focused on the significance of social media: 80 percent of respondents said they use such media throughout the day, and 60 percent said they use it while traveling to keep in touch. One-third check sites multiple times per hour, and one-fifth check in multiple times per day while on the road. I would guess, though, that a good chunk of those people are also at least glancing at their e-mail inboxes while getting online to check Facebook, and, in addition to or instead of consulting social media, people likely are, yes, using the phone.
Different communications media serve different purposes, and that's a fact often overlooked by surveys of this ilk. When traveling, for example, the question of communication cost is a pretty big factor. Sheraton concluded from its survey that its Link@Sheraton program -- which offers free Wi-Fi and desktop computer usage at stations in or near its hotel lobbies -- is becoming a necessity for its guests. But the popularity of Link@Sheraton (more than 50 percent of guests use the service) may have just as much to do with how expensive it is to use a guest-room telephone -- particularly for guests who are traveling from afar, making cell phone usage more challenging. It also might have something to do with the fact that using in-room Wi-Fi isn't free, and in some cases is quite expensive.
My point? It wasn't to knock Sheraton; quite the opposite, as I think the company should be praised for offering guests a free connectivity option. Keeping in touch via social media works for a growing number of people, but what hotel guests and meeting and event attendees need is connectivity; what matters more than the platform is functional, affordable access. Travelers may be turning more to social media platforms because phone use can be expensive and finding a signal a challenge -- not necessarily because they don't want to talk.