SMS Turns 20 Today

Some might find it hard to believe, but the text message, or short message service (SMS), turned twenty years old today. SMS came from the mind of Finnish engineer Matti Makkonen, who pitched the idea for a messaging service as far back as 1984.

The first message was not sent from Makkonen, but rather a young English engineer named Neil Papworth to another friend from PC to a mobile device. The service that carried the message was Vodafone, where an employee received a simple sentence: “Merry Christmas.”

Within twenty years, the text message has become somewhat of a cultural icon of technology and communication in the United States and elsewhere. An unusual texting language was born, usually assisted by a large amount of criticism by teachers and others trying to push proper writing of English. It seems that we have all just chosen to live with it. However, even Makkonen himself choses to intentionally write the correct language (Finnish, in his case) according to CNet.

Along with mobile devices themselves, text messaging has undergone quite the evolution as well. At the birth of the technology, SMS texts could only be sent from one device to another that was in the same network.What’s even more limited is how phones themselves couldn’t actually send texts just yet, which is why Papworth had to send his from a PC.

Before cellular plans came into play, the data transmitted through texting, though small, would cost a fixed amount per message. Though many customers would be reluctant to send too many messages, it still brought in millions, and in some cases billions, of dollars to communications companies.

With the anniversary of SMS, many are now beginning to question where the direction of it will go. With the commonality of smartphones instead of flip-phones, a mobile Internet connection has allowed users to simply contact through email, Facebook, or most other social networks. Text messaging is still in use, but many companies have reported a declining trend throughout the years.

That isn’t to say that text messaging will go away completely in the coming years, or at all. The ability to say something quick without having to call is what has allowed SMS to be as successful as it has. Verizon and AT&T will still certainly adapt their services for continuous text messaging, and now Google could be looking into a cellular service as well. Texting will play a role in that as well pending further developments.

According to The Guardian, around fifty text messages per week are sent from the average English citizen. They go on to say that the average citizen of the Philippines sends a staggering twenty-seven messages per day.

The role in texting is transparently very influential, but our need for the service has certainly changed since our phones have become more connected. Despite the direction, we can attribute our modern communication to a simple 160 character or less message.

 Ezra Melino is a tech blogger who manages the blog DX3, a news blog that covers connections technology and society.

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