Today marks the day that phone communication changed forever. It’s the day that started a new round of communication evolution, causing us to view phones as tools for far more than voice calls. And this all important game changer? The text message.
On December 3, 1992, the first text message was sent. Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old software developer from England, sent a friendly “Merry Christmas” from his computer to his boss’s cell phone while his boss was at a party. And thus, our views on phones were destined to change forever. Originally, Vodafone, Neil’s employer, was simply attempting to design a system that coworkers could use to send messages to each others’ computers. What they ended up with was so much more, and within three years, the first SMS (Short Message Service) text messaging plan became available in the UK. However, across the pond in the U.S., texting did not take off until the late 90’s, when more carriers began offering text messaging plans and made it possible to send messages to a wider circle of your friends and family.
As texting grew in popularity, it became the main way many people communicated. In 2011, the average American sent and received more than forty text messages per day, and a third of users said they prefered texting to voice calls. All this texting has also had unforeseen consequences on our lives, including how we use language. Though character limits for SMS messages are now a thing of the past, restrictions meant that users could only send 160 characters at a time. This led to one of the most prominent recent changes to the written language. Without the space to type out everything you wanted to say, users began shortening phrases such as, “How are you,” to be “How r u,” or the ever popular “be right back” typed as “brb.” This way of typing continued to evolve as other forms of instant communication became more popular, including instant messaging software such as ICQ and AIM. Now there is a plethora of phrases that are all shortened or acronyms. You can say anything from “I love you” to an insult with only a few letters.
For some, even taking the time to type out a message can be too time consuming, so most of today’s smartphones come equipped with voice recognition software. Now all you have to do to send a text is push a button and then talk. When texting through your regular phone service doesn’t get you in touch with someone, now you can use apps, or smartphone applications, to easily contact them. These downloadable apps have enabled us to perform many additional functions on our phones, especially in the way of communication. Social media apps and other messaging apps have also become increasingly popular, and in some areas of the world are used more often than regular text messaging services. Despite the changes in use over time, the text message has continued to thrive as an extremely popular way to communicate with people around the globe.
And the creator of the text? While reminiscing during a recent interview, Neil Papworth said he was surprised by the effect text messaging has had on the world, and admitted to only sending 10-15 texts in a week. Despite his infrequent use, we’re certainly glad that he sent that “Merry Christmas” 22 years ago. Without text messaging and instant messengers, Allshore would be a very different business.
Anne Sutherland is an Administrative Coordinator at Allshore Virtual Staffing, a remote staffing agency. Having a BA in Asian Studies, minor in Japanese, and time spent abroad, Anne excels at multi-cultural communication and continually stays up to date on cultural events and research.