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Texting is on the fast track

Y so popular? B/C it's simple and private.

WASHINGTON - R u kidding me? Americans punched out more than 110 billion text messages last December, double the number in the last month of 2007, as the shorthand communication becomes a popular alternative to cell-phone calls.

The nation's 270 million cell-phone subscribers each sent an average of 407 text messages in December 2008, according to government statistics released yesterday by the Census Bureau. That's more than double the 188 messages sent by the average cell subscriber in December 2007.

The figures did not break down the texting by age, but the overall numbers understate the thousands of texts sent each month by many teens - balanced out by older folks who don't text as much.

"We are seeing a clear trend of huge increases in text messaging," said Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist at the Pew Internet and American Life Project. "If teens are a leader for America, then we are moving to a text-based communication system. For them, there is less interest in talking."

Her research found that the average teen now sends more than 2,000 text messages per month. About two-thirds of all teens use text messaging, mostly because of its simplicity as well as the privacy of being able to communicate without being overheard.

Lenhart predicted that texting would keep growing as parents begin using it as an easy way to reach their children.

At the same time, the average length of a cell-phone call declined last year to 2.3 minutes. That's the shortest chat time since the 1990s, before mobile devices and cheap calling plans became widely available to everyday consumers. The peak talk time came in 2004, when a caller on average chatted for 3.05 minutes.

The monthly cell-phone bill has remained largely flat over the years, at $50.

The data are part of the Census Bureau's annual Statistical Abstract of the United States, a compendium of numbers quantifying just about every aspect of everyday life.