No, I’m not offering you season’s greetings just yet. Although I’m four doors into my cheese advent calendar and I’ve already watched Die Hard, I still have far too much work to do before I’ll allow myself to feel all Christmassy.
What I’m referring to is the Season’s Greetings that were sent via the first ever SMS text message on December 3, 1992. Telecommunications engineer Neil Papworth sent “Merry Christmas” to Vodafone Director, Richard Jarvis’ phone and the SMS was born. Although, in my eyes at least, Papworth might’ve been a little early in his festive cheer he sparked off what can accurately be described as a revolution in the way that people communicate and interact with each other.
Although SMS adoption was slow at first, by 1995 the average American was only sending 0.4 messages a month, growth slowly continued to grow. Before long the technology began to adapt to better accommodate the sending of SMS text messages and in 1999 the networks opened up to allow users from competitive networks to communicate with their own users via SMS. This led to the average US user sending 35 SMS messages every day by the year 2000.
Once SMS had established itself, it became almost second nature and in many ways, the preferred form of communication. It became the social norm to send people SMS messages rather than calling them. The number of messages being sent each year just kept growing and growing with a whopping 12.5 billion being sent every month in 2006, which grew to 45 billion a month being sent just a year later in 2007. By June 2017, there were 781 billion SMS messages flying around.
SMS provided a brand new way to communicate with your friends and family. The 160-character limit for each message in turn spurred the creation of a brand new vernacular that allowed for text-based representations of physical actions like laughing out loud or even certain facial expressions and emotions.
The SMS revolution has also left a wave of social good in its wake by bringing effective communication to previously cut-off regions. Even today, 25 years after the first ever SMS message was sent, new initiatives are still being created that utilize SMS to help people in remote regions. Huge strides have been made in the fight against malaria and other important social battles all through the power of that little beep beep – beep beep.
With such a huge history behind it, what future lies ahead for the SMS text message? Well unfortunately, it looks like its days may be numbered. As more and more regions become connected to the world wide web, internet messaging services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger will take over from the humble SMS. With no comparable charge or character limit users in the western world have already begun to migrate to the new internet-based messaging platforms.
Even if SMS does end up going the same way as Adobe Flash and MS Paint, it’ll take a long long time before the messaging platform no longer exists and even after it has gone it’s more modern messaging cousins will always owe a huge debt of gratitude to SMS.
What started off as “Merry Christmas” has become much more, and will keep changing and evolving the way we communicate with each other for many holidays to come.
Happy Birthday, SMS.