The Philippines as a country has been a source of migrant workers for the world for decades. When phone calls (land lines) were too expensive and the internet was unheard of, Filipino expats used to rely on handwritten letters and conventional mail to stay in touch with their families back home. Postcards slowly began to replace letters and eventually mobile phones became more affordable. In the early 1990s’ the term Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) was coined. It was also the time when the internet became more accessible to the masses, and a host of new communication media replaced the old. Today OFWs and their families back home use a multitude of creative ways to communicate with one another.
Conventional telephone calls understandably remain popular among a percentage of OFWs, as there are few substitutes for hearing the voice of a loved one. Mobile phones have almost completely replaced land lines due to accessibility, mobility and convenience. It is rare today for an OFW to not own a cell phone. An important aspect of having a mobile is to have the optimum calling plan. The vast majority of OFWs choose prepaid plans as these are cheaper in the long run than postpaid. It is also easier to keep track of expenses with a prepaid. For many OFWs phone calls are an indispensable component of any important family event or occasion such as a birthday or a festivity. Many others call their families punctually on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule.
Filipinos use their mobile phones heavily for text messaging, which is simpler and quicker than calling, and does not require the real time availability of both parties. According to 2009 statistics, there are about 72 million mobile-service subscriptions (roughly 80% of the Filipino population), with around 1.39 billion SMS messages being sent daily. Because of the large amount of text messages being sent, the Philippines became known as the “text capital of the world” during the late 1990s until the early 2000s.
Email was popular among Filipino expats as a cost effective and reliable mode of communication until instant messaging all but replaced it. Email is still used profusely, although more so now by a more senior segment of the population. Today most of the major email service providers also offer instant messaging programs as separate apps, which operate using the same login credentials. Yahoo messenger and Google Hangouts are prime examples. Email remains popular for more formal communications and for sending documents. This preference stems from the inherent reliability of email and the ability to easily access older mails.
Filipino expats love to post status updates, pictures and video clips on social media for friends and family to see. According to one study 90% of all OFW families using social media are on Facebook. There are several advantages to being able to communicate with several people at once. Many Filipinos feel that sharing spontaneous updates is a more natural and honest form of communication than scheduled chats. Platforms such as Facebook allow you to organize your friends into neat groups so that each post is only visible to the intended set of people. Posting selfies is especially popular since pictures communicate a lot without having to type in too many words. Getting comments on a picture is akin to participating in a group discussion. Moreover friends don’t have to be online simultaneously, and can see each other’s posts whenever they log on. This is a definite advantage when your loved ones are in a different time zone.
Smartphone messenger apps such as iMessage, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp allow OFWs to chat with friends on a one-to-one basis or collectively as groups. These programs offer all the benefits of social media with the added convenience of being operable from a smartphone.
Real time communication
Sometimes there is no substitute for a live conversation. Telephony and videotelephony services such as Skype, WhatsApp, WeChat, FaceTime and others are gaining popularity among OFWs. It is possible to chat using one of these apps for a fraction of the cost of a telephone call or less. With good connectivity you can have a video chat, which is arguably the next best thing to meeting in person.
Increasing internet penetration and urbanization in the Philippines is making online communication easier than ever. The quest for fast, reliable and affordable means of communication continues to bring about surprising new innovations.