Texting turned 20 on Monday. That's right: SMS (Short Messaging Service), which we still use to relay our OMGs and LOLs, is older than Justin Bieber.
Developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, an organization that grew to regulate the burgeoning mobile phone industry before the coming of the European Union, SMS capability was bundled into the makings of the European (and later American) mobile phone system in the early 90's. The first SMS text was sent eight years after Finnish engineer Matti Makkonen first proposed the SMS in concept -- not exactly a stellar turnaround time. What took so long? In the ETSI's defense, it isn't exactly known for its research-to-product pipeline, and in the years between 1984 (SMS proposed) and 1992 (first SMS sent), an entire mobile phone network had to be built to, you know, enable mobile calling, as well as SMS services.
Now, 20 years after that first text message ("Merry Christmas," sent by engineer Neil Papworth to Vodafone executive Richard Jarvis), the popularity of SMS is soaring. In the U.K., for example, researchers found that in 2011, texting was more popular than voice calling, especially among youths aged 16 to 24, per the BBC.
Yes, SMS has staying power. Despite popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and video messaging services like Skype, the humble SMS has stuck around for two decades. Do you think you'll be able to say the same for your shiny, new Android mobile?
In Malaysia, It's Legal To Divorce Via Text Message…
<a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3100143.stm">"SMS is just another form of writing,"</a> Dr. Abdul Hamid Othman, the Malaysian government's advisor on religious affairs, was quoted as saying. <a href="http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/04/12/we-r-over-tajikistans-religious-officials-ban-divorce-by-text-message/">Text message divorce was also briefly legal in Tajikistan,</a> before being banned by religious leaders in 2011.
...But That Didn't Save The Prime Minister Of Finland From Scandal
Divorce via text message may be the norm in some countries, but not in the SMS's native home. <a href="http://us.gizmodo.com/218751/sexy-finnish-prime-minister-dumps-gf-via-text-message">Matti Vanhanen, former Finnish PM, was front-page news in Finland after he rudely dumped his then-girlfriend via text message. </a>
The Text Message's 160 Character Limit Originated On A Typewriter...
<a href="http://www.npr.org/2012/12/02/166336705/ttyl-a-look-at-20-years-of-texting?ft=1&f=1019">NPR's Steve Henn reports: </a> <blockquote>[T]here was a guy named Friedhelm Hillebrand, who was part of the committee organizing how the mobile telephone system would work. And in the '80s, there was really very limited bandwidth. So, they were trying to figure out how to do this and use the least amount of data and space on the system as possible. So, he sat down at a typewriter and banged out sentences and started counting up the number of characters in the sentence. And he just decided that 160 characters was enough to write a sentence or ask a question. And we've been living with that limit ever since.</blockquote>
...And Inspired Twitter
<a href="http://blog.twitter.com/2010/04/cloudhopping.html">An entry from Twitter's blog, written in 2010:</a> <blockquote>Twitter was inspired by SMS and we continue to embrace this simple but ubiquitous technology. In fact, Twitter's 140-character limit was designed specifically to allow for any tweet to be read in its entirety whether you're using a rudimentary mobile phone, or a more sophisticated Internet enabled device.</blockquote>
The Inventor Of SMS Didn't Patent His Innovation...
<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20555620">According to this BBC interview,</a> SMS "inventor" Matti Makkonen didn't seek a patent because he didn't believe he'd made a "patentable innovation." He hasn't made a dollar on the product since. Twenty years later, he says he's glad it worked out the way it did.
…It Took An Investigation To Identify Him...
Quoth <a href=""Breakthroughs - 90 Success Stories from Finland", 2007">the webpage of the Finnish Embassy: </a> <blockquote>In 2002, the monthly supplement of the Helsinki-based newspaper Helsingin Sanomat began in earnest to investigate the history of this invention. Among those interviewed was Matti Makkonen, a graduate engineer born in Suomussalmi in 1952, who had years of experience in the creation of telephone technical standards. He described the process of how work on the innovation had progressed, but he named no names for the source of the concept. Many interviews later, it began to dawn on the journalist, where the idea had come from. It was Makkonen himself who, a bit reluctantly, admitted to being the father of SMS.</blockquote>
…And He Still Doesn't Txtspeak.
Again, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20555620">from the BBC interview: </a> Interviewer: Cn u txtspk? Makkonen: No! My passion is to write correct language (Finnish), using all 160 characters.
Text Messages Were 'The Hero' Of Hurricane Katrina...
With power out, cables flooded and asynchronous communication a must, text messages proved essential during the post-Katrina disaster cleanup, coordinating livesaving helicopter rescues and informing isolated hospitals of the status of incoming patients. <a href="http://fcw.com/articles/2006/04/03/sms-does-sos.aspx">FCW explains:</a> <blockquote>When disaster strikes, SMS has a major advantage over cellular voice calls and wireless e-mail devices. Text messages do not rely on voice channels for transmission, and they don't piggyback on enterprise e-mail servers. Instead, SMS messages travel as small packets of data on a wireless carrier's control channel, the same portion of the spectrum that keeps a cellular network apprised of a particular phone's location and status. Because SMS messages are isolated in the control channel and are often unfazed by heavy traffic or adverse conditions that can overwhelm wireless networks, text messages can get through when most other methods of communication fail.</blockquote>
...And Are Now Being Used In Government-Sponsored Disaster Simulations
<a href="http://fcw.com/articles/2006/04/03/sms-does-sos.aspx">This again via FCW,</a> which in reporting notes: <blockquote>...[B]ecause SMS is often reliable in the wake of disasters when other communications fail, officials at agencies or departments not on the front lines of disaster recovery may find themselves and their employees turning to text messaging, should worst-case scenarios materialize.</blockquote>
SMS Is 'The Most Widely Used Data Application In The Entire World'...
Approximately 3.7 billion users around the world send and receive SMS, according to <a href="http://www.business2community.com/mobile-apps/the-cost-of-bulk-sms-in-developing-countries-0209734">Business2Community</a>.
...So Much So That Text Messages Have Become Currency In Many Developing Nations.
<a href="http://techcrunch.com/2012/05/27/mobile-developing-world/">TechCrunch reports on</a> laborers across the developing world (most of whom do not save or borrow money by way of banks) exchanging currency in the form of "airtime," talk and text for mobile phones that can be paid for via SMS. Writes TechCrunch: <blockquote>Imagine you need to get a small amount of money to your sister who lives in a village that's ten hours drive away. The easiest way for you to do that is to buy some airtime, but instead of topping up your own prepaid mobile service you top up hers. For a small fee, she can now go and cash out this airtime with an agent that sells airtime. </blockquote>
Textspeak Has Anglicized World Languages...
Louis Menard, <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2008/10/20/081020crbo_books_menand?currentPage=all">reviewing David Crystal's "Txtng: The Gr8 Db8" in the New Yorker,</a> comments on Crystal's findings with regards to text messaging across languages. He writes the following: <blockquote>Sometimes it is more convenient to use the English term, but often it is the aesthetically preferred term--the cooler expression. Texters in all eleven languages that Crystal lists use "lol," "u," "brb," and "gr8," all English-based shorthands. The Dutch use "2m" to mean "tomorrow"; the French have been known to use "now," which is a lot easier to type than "maintenant." And there is what is known as "code-mixing," in which two languages--one of them invariably English--are conflated in a single expression. Germans write "mbsseg" to mean "mail back so schnell es geht" ("as fast as you can"). So texting has probably done some damage to the planet's cultural ecology, to lingo-diversity. People are better able to communicate across national borders, but at some cost to variation.</blockquote>
….And Created Languages All Its Own…
...or at least Romanizations of older, non-Romanized scripts. Academics have begun studying several informal Romanized Southeast Asian text-messaging languages, including <a href="https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:inrChFi9xDAJ:www.ijens.org/Vol%252011%2520I%252002/116702-8484%2520IJECS-IJENS.pdf+&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESjyEGP7zEJFWb_6D2d_px8P-6wLrqzMZnSHJspSQohvgBUAhn5caZsT5JfizMbmaP5Egzw0bs7g8UibYK3eT3WVTc1RsnKgUHcshXMf1fkxWqnY8PoW0eM3cx-RTcBnxk5bvb-d&sig=AHIEtbRZTaNZGruMjgT73AfC2Xx-2Bwd9g">Romanized Bangla</a> and <a href="https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:ypDgROJ2mMwJ:research.microsoft.com/en-us/events/lsm2012/irvinelsm.pdf+&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESgPwk_pdgXwKA9LJN-z1VAQTZrLI8MmmljR6CbHjhxZGRmY5-TtTDvBgouAIEO29PLIt1xMaaaFkAlZ4A1MmkFfdwQTSSAVJP653HmrLT2bH4t2pAVjWweWFLWuSGCjqQwEGrJR&sig=AHIEtbQ5DW2ukvD-4AaXqxPh6fONP9kRLA">Romanized Pakistani. </a>
...As Well As A New Set Of Manners For A New 'Text Friendly' Generation...
Decried by many adults, of course, is the <a href="http://voices.yahoo.com/cell-phone-texting-etiquette-children-and-7667062.html">mortal sin of texting at the dinner table.</a>
...Manners That Have Been Enshrined By A Poet...
Specifically, <a href="http://www.davidcrystal.com/DC_articles/Internet12.pdf">SMS poet Norman Silver, who describes texting customs and etiquette thus:</a> 1. u shall luv ur mobil fone with all ur hart 2. u & ur fone shall neva b apart 3. u shall nt lust aftr ur neibrs fone nor thiev 4. u shall b prepard @ all times 2 tXt & 2 recv 5. u shall use LOL & othr acronyms in conversatns 6. u shall be zappy with ur ast*r*sks & exc!matns!! 7. u shall abbrevi8 & rite words like theyr sed 8. u shall nt speak 2 sum 1 face2face if u cn msg em insted 9. u shall nt shout with capitls XEPT IN DIRE EMERGNCY + 10. u shall nt consult a ninglish dictnry
...Just As Poets Have Enshrined Text Messages.
<a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2001/may/03/internet.poetry">The U.K. Guardian ran its first SMS poetry competition in 2001. </a>Afterwards, judge Peter Samson told the Guardian he found the experience delightful. "It was a pleasure, not work at all, doing this, and easily the most enjoyable competition I've judged," he said.
Remember The Old Nokia Text Message Tone? It's Morse Code For 'SMS'...
Listen to it now <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trj-3JlEH3U">via this video.</a>
…Which Is Funny, Because The Fastest Text Messengers Still Aren't As Fast As The Fastest Morse Coders.
<a href="http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/80603816/">Another video,</a> this time from Jay Leno.
In The Developed World, SMS May Be Dying..
<a href="http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/11/facebook-killing-sms/#">The New York Times</a> says SMS is dying, replaced by Tweets, Facebook messages and other high-tech data services. These services can be more attractive than SMS because they're oftentimes free to use.
...But The Creator Of SMS Isn't Worried About That.
<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20555620">Says Makkonen to the BBC,</a>"20 years is long time... I believe that reliable convenient to use text messaging will stay forever. Is not necessary what we call sms. No more pay per message."