Texting turns 20 today, and it’s still kicking

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“Merry Christmas” was the first text message ever sent. Neil Papworth sent it from his PC to Richard Jarvis’s Orbitel 901 mobile handset (as big as a modern office phone), and thus the text message was born. Twenty years ago from today the first text message was sent and thus began the revolution in mobile communication we know and love. The text message, and the many technologies created from the wake of its revolutionary concept, has reshaped communication in the last two decades.

The idea behind the text message got its start in the 1980s as the development of the mobile phone was in full swing. While the idea of voice communication was already standardized under the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) banner, the idea of a textual message had yet to be completely finalized. On December 3, 1992, Papworth sent the text message to Jarvis and set the standard we use to communicate to this very day. The text message has since become an essential part our lives, it’s short length forcing us to embracing the contraction of our language into even smaller bits and pieces more than ever before. It paved the way for the idea of Twitter – an instant, short, messaging concept – to take hold in the last four years and changed just how we communicate with all of our gadgets. Over time, new services, such as MultiMedia Messaging (MMS) have also come along to continue to rewire how we deliver information to one another from our phones. We have become an instant communication world, and the text message played a fundamental part in this evolution. 

These days, text messaging has found its place as the go-to method of text communication challenged by services ranging from Apple’s iMessage. RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger, and Facebook. Because of these technologies, text messaging is on the decline, and we’re sending less texts a month – about only 678 a month, according to Chetan Sharma Consulting. While this news is certainly not good for the messaging standard, an impressive 70 billion texts are still sent every month, a massive increase from the 2 or 3 billion being sent just a decade ago.

The evolution of the text message may continue and the technology will likely change  as data-based services like iMessage, BBM, and Facebook continue to grow in popularity, but it still stands an essential part of our mobile experience just like the talking on the phone. We have it all to thank the text message for – and 160 characters just doesn’t do it justice.

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