If it were human, the text message would be old enough to vote, drive and enlist but one year shy of ordering Johnnie Walker legally. The lowly SMS message celebrated its 20th birthday this week — while it recently also has started to drop in popularity.
The first short message service communication was sent on Dec. 3, 1992 over the Vodafone GSM network in the U.K. by Neil Papworth (using a computer, of all things!) to Richard Jarvis' handset. The greeting?: "Merry Christmas." A few weeks early, of course, but still a 15-character message for the record books.
Despite the explosion of mobile apps, SMS remains the world's most commonly used data application; as many as 6 billion cell phone subscribers send and receive text messages. CTIA said 1.5 trillion SMS messages were sent in 2009.
Lately, though, an increase in messaging applications such as Skype, WhatsApp and others has started chipping away at the dominance of SMS, which remains a for-fee service. The one basic advantage of SMS is that every phone has it — users don't need to install or download any particular program and ensure that their colleagues and friends are on that same program, too.
The SMS also helped to accelerate the evolution (or some might say the devolution) in the very mechanics of our communication language. Do you remember the time before LOL, CYE (check your email), and BRB? In text speak, vowels often become unnecessary to get your message across. And of course, research suggests that texting is changing our brains, with a study showing that heavy texters are less tolerant of new words being introduced into their vocabularies.
And while the panic over carpal tunnel syndrome started with society's mass shift to everyday computer use, the relationship between texting and CTS has attracted attention. One girl who was sending 100 texts a day in 2010 made headlines when she was diagnosed with CTS — but somehow, that figure seems strangely, comparatively low today in our smartphone-addicted society.
The SMS remains one of the most quick and efficient ways to send short snips of information (and avoid talking to people you'd rather not have an actual conversation with).