The text message is now the grand old age of 20. The first text was sent on 3 December 1992 by engineer Neil Papworth from his PC to Vodafone’s Richard Jarvis. And the very first texted words were… ‘Merry Christmas’.
Poor old Neil didn’t get a festive response in return (or any response at all for that matter) as there was no way to actually send a text from a phone back in 1992.
We had to wait until 1993 for Nokia’s first mobile phone for that. Even then, texting didn’t really take off until 1999, which was when people could send texts to people on different mobile networks.
20 years of 160 characters
Despite Neil’s first text being a little early in the month of December to send Christmas wishes, I’ll forgive him as at least he didn’t say ‘Mrry Xmas LOL’. There’s nothing I despise more than txtspk.
It seems I’m not alone – despite giving birth to the text, Neil himself isn’t a fan of txtspk. He recently told the BBC: ‘My passion is to write correct language (Finnish), using all 160 characters.’
Nevertheless, I can remember the ‘joys’ of texting when I bought my first mobile phone, a Sendo, when I was around 16-years-old. I popped £10 on to my phone each month, which meant I could send 100 texts as long as I didn’t make any calls. This meant I had to be very careful with my character counts – fitting everything I wanted to say into 160 characters was an art that regrettably often required txtspk.
For me, those days are gone. I get unlimited texts with my tariff, so I tend to send texts willy nilly without any concern for character counts. I try not to make shortcuts on grammar though – ud nevr gt sumit ritn lk dis n ur fone if u wer lcky enuf 2b snt a txt frm me 4 exmpl.
Eesh, writing that last sentence (if you can call it that) was tough. And I don’t think there’s a huge need for it now. It might help speed things up, but there’s predictive text these days to help if you’re in a rush to text your crush.
Is the text on its way out?
So what next for the text? According to Ofcom, we’re sending 50 texts per week on average. Teenage girls send the most, with an average 221 texts per week. If that stat didn’t depress you, this one might – texting is the most popular way to stay in touch with friends and family, more so than talking face-to-face.
However, for the very first time in the history of mobiles, the SMS is showing signs of decline. This is likely due to other types of instant messaging services, like Whatsapp and Skype, or even social networks like Twitter and Facebook. In fact, our Tech team’s Andy Vandervell doesn’t think the text will be around to celebrate its 30th Birthday.
Personally, I can see the good old SMS being around for some time. If you’ve got a mobile phone, there are two things everyone knows you can receive – calls and texts.
I think it’s a bit presumptuous to say that every single person on the planet will have a smartphone that’s connected to the internet in ten years time. Perhaps those will be my famous last words. If they’re not, I’ll be texting Andy with a ‘Merry Christmas’ to remind him of his prediction in December 2022.