LOL OMG! Text Messaging Just Celebrated Its 25th Birthday


Nearly a billion text messages are sent every hour, and that does not take into account app-to-app messaging. Overall, some 8 trillion (yes, TRILLION!) texts are sent each year, which again does not include app-to-app messages. For better or worse, texting has become a part of everyday life, and it all started 25 years ago on December 3, 1992, when a programmer named Neil Papworth wrote "merry Christmas" on a computer and sent it to a mobile phone belonging to Vodafone director Richard Jarvis.

Papworth's text message is the considered the first SMS ever. Looking back, it's pretty interesting that Papworth spelled out "Christmas" rather than shortening it to "Xmas," a fact he is quick to point out. These days, text messages sometimes appear more like hieroglyphics, containing a mix of shorthand, abbreviations, and more recently, a rash of emojis. But it's not just a young person's game—practically everyone texts these days.

It was not always like this, of course. Even though texting has officially been around for two and a half decades, it took some time for it to catch one. Mobile phones supporting SMS communications arrived in 1993, and in the early going they were not as ubiquitous as they are now. Once SMS-capable mobile phones spread, however, text messaging exploded in popularity around the world.

In the UK alone, users were sending 66 billion SMS messages per year by 2007. That number more than doubled to 151 billion in 2012. Texting took a little longer to become as popular in the US, only because mobile operators charged more for texting and less than phone calls. It was cheaper to send text messages on PC through instant messaging applications, such as AIM (which is shutting down this month after a 20-year run).

Eventually the US caught up, however, especially as phones moved away from just numerical buttons and started offering QWERTY keypads, followed by touchscreens with virtual keyboards. Now the US sends hundreds of billions of text messages per year, and is fast approaching 1 trillion.

What is also interesting to note is how social etiquette has changed. Whereas texting may have seem impersonal compared to a phone call, these days it can be annoyance when someone dials up your number rather than firing off a quick text. And at some places, you can even order fast food via text.

We don't think about it much, but like the Internet itself, texting changed the world.