The first text message is 25 years old

On December 3rd 1992, a 22-year-old Canadian test engineer sat down and typed out a very simple message, “Merry Christmas.


Engineer Neil Papworth sent the first SMS on December 3rd, 1992, when he wrote “merry Christmas” on a computer and sent it to the cellphone of Vodafone director Richard Jarvis. It was a modest start, but it ultimately changed technology and even social norms.

It took a long time for SMS to find widespread adoption, both because of the cellular networks and phones whose buttons revolved around dialing rather than typing. But then the smartphone arrived. In the US, the volume of messages surged from 12.5 billion per month in 2006 to 45 billion a year later. By June 2017, there were 781 billion messages passing around in the country. Messaging was suddenly easy, and SMS was ready and waiting to take advantage of that newfound freedom.

There’s little doubt that texting has influenced communication in the years since. Where texting was once seen as a rarity or even rude, it’s frequently the first choice for communication — how often are you annoyed when someone calls you instead of sending a brief message? Accordingly, it’s entirely common to see services that are available through SMS, whether it’s ordering pizza or getting music recommendations. Twitter’s original 140-character limit (which was just lifted in November) was built around SMS’ 160-character ceiling to enable tweets in an era before the mobile internet was widely available. The effects of SMS haven’t always been positive (they’ve facilitated spam, for instance), but it’s clear there’s no going back.

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