Teenage Girls and iMessage

My 15-year old niece’s iPod Touch was having a problem. It wouldn’t let her use iMessage.

Strange. I told her we could try fixing it during our family get-together for Easter. She brought it, we disabled it in Settings, tried logging in again. She entered her Apple ID and password. Still didn’t work – the error message said either her userID or her password was wrong. Yes, she turned it on and off again. Yes, she’s on the latest iOS.1

“What if you backed it up and restored?” I asked her.

“I read the forums and lots of people tried that and it still didn’t work for them.”2

It’s strange, because she just upgraded her Macbook to Mountain Lion last week and iMessage works fine there, but not on her iPod Touch. I said maybe it will work in a few days. iMessage is finicky like that.

My sister and I gave our nieces a history lesson. In our day, the late 90’s to the early 00’s, we had ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger. ICQ gave way to AIM. When we were both in college you would often hear doors in the dorms slam – not actual doors, but people who left their computers on and had the sound turned up so everyone could hear the IM log-in and log-off sounds. We would type away messages around dinner time so that people would know where to meet for meals. We had no Status Updates or Tweets. We had away messages.

“Explain to me, what is the teenage hierarchy of communication among you and your friends?” I asked the 15-year old.

Here’s how it works, according to a 15-year old girl. First resort is iMessage.

“Why iMessage?”

“Because it’s built-in. We all use it.”

“But what about your friends without an iOS thing? Aren’t you ostracizing them just because they don’t have one?”

“…everyone has an iPhone.” she says. I don’t think she means iPhones specifically. I think she means iOS devices.

So – you heard it here – teenagers go to iMessage FIRST. This is why it’s kind of a big deal that iMessage isn’t working on her iPod Touch.

“Well, then what?”

“Then we use Snapchat.”

Snapchat, I think, is the one where teenagers could sext each other. Actually, they could sext each other everywhere, but on Snapchat messages expire. She tells me that it doesn’t happen to her and that you have to friend people on Snapchat first before they can send you anything. That’s a little more comforting.

“Then what do you use?”

“Third is Skype.”

Skype is everywhere. On her Mac. On her iPod Touch. I had assumed this was the first thing teenagers go to, but I was wrong. She doesn’t message using Skype, she said. She uses it to video chat.

“Do you use it to do voice calls?”


“Why not?”

“Because…because it does video.”

“If Facetime worked on your iPod do you think you’d use that instead of Skype?”

“…no. Probably not.”

“What about Facebook?”

“Facebook isn’t good for messaging. It’s not good for group messages.”

“Did you try out that Messenger app they have? I like it a lot. It does group messages pretty well.”

“But iMessage is built-in.”

Remember, it isn’t a big deal for her to be able to message Android friends, because she has no Android friends. There are iPod Touch-like devices built on Android, but all her friends use iOS. A 15-year old girl, who is comfortable reading the Apple discussion forums, updating her iOS software, and has nearly 5 pages of apps,3 prefers using built-in services over third-party services.

Let’s recap. For this teenage girl, who I don’t know for sure if her tastes are representative of everyone else her age, but this is the only data point I have, iMessage comes first. Then Snapchat. Then Skype. But Skype isn’t used for messaging. It’s only used for video chatting. And that comes AFTER the fun app that’s used to send pictures around. She thinks she would even use Skype over Facetime. Then, after all that stuff, Facebook – IF SHE HAS TO. She doesn’t use Twitter.

And that’s not really a surprise. With iMessage I don’t have to deal with friend requests or follows. It’s the most direct-line of quick communication ever devised. Even my sisters and I use iMessage as our private Twitter.

On the other hand, until now I had never thought of how I block iMessages from somebody. What if I’m being harassed? Still hasn’t happened…yet.

If you’re a teenager and want to iMessage someone all you’d need to know is their email address. 10-15 years ago we had to exchange buddy names or ICQ numbers.

Things change. They’re simpler now, but still kinda complicated.

  1. Maybe this is the problem – my wifi connections got weaker after this upgrade. 

  2. Let me just take a moment here to note how much things have changed. A 15-year old teenage girl is checking the forums to diagnose problems with her iOS device. She tried to figure out the problem on her own before bringing it to anybody. To a dorky uncle twice her age this is kind of a big deal. Proud moment. 

  3. About 60 of them had an update available. I think she uses almost none of these, otherwise they’d be updated.