POST 50
12/03/2012 03:15 pm ET | Updated Dec 04, 2012

On Text Message's 20th B-Day, Is It Over?

Pity the poor text message -- a mere 20 years young this week and already they are talking about its retirement party. Actually, nobody holds retirement parties anymore, do they? We don't retire from our jobs, we get pink-slipped. Which is apparently what's happening to the text message.

MarketWatch reports that for the first time, the number of texts sent by U.S. customers has dropped. Though the decline is slight -- a mere 3 percent to an average of 678 texts per user a month in the third quarter -- MarketWatch says it hints at a major shift in mobile communication. And since we live globally, the drop in texting isn't just in the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal. In the United Kingdom, the number of text messages dropped from 39.1 billion in the first quarter of the year to 38.5 billion in the second quarter.

Not so fast, said Neil Papworth, the guy who sent the first text message out 20 years ago. Reached Monday by The Huffington Post, Papworth said that while he doesn't see texting lasting forever, he also doesn't "see it going anywhere soon."

"Not everyone has a smartphone," he said, "and smartphones usually rely on an Internet connection, which isn't always available." He said, "Basically, every phone round the world can do SMS. You don't have to know if the person you are trying to send a message to has a smartphone, uses Skype, WhatsApp, BBM etc. -- you just send a text and you know it will work," he said.

Besides, if we stopped texting, where would all those "TTYLs" go (since no one actually talks to you later anyway)? They are apparently heading toward iMessage and other similar services that offer more features and cost a bit less. Our thumbs will be just as tired and the idea is the same; but free apps like Viber and Jaxtr SMS are poised to rule the roost.

Why retire a perfectly good communications system just to save a few shekels? For the same reason no one uses their smartphone to talk and email is pretty much an island wasteland, abandoned to post 50s. New technology drives business more often than not, instead of the other way around.

At the risk of spoiling a perfectly nice birthday party with the downer talk of "you are too old to do the job," we asked Father of the Text Papworth what would he say in the world's last text message?

"Thx 4 the wild ride."

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