Happy birthday to you…

On 3 December 2012 the humble text turned 20 years old.

Back in December 1992 engineer Neil Papworth created history by sending the world’s first ever text. The message simply read ‘Merry Christmas’ and was sent to Neil’s friend, Richard Jarvis, who worked as a Vodafone director at the time.

Unfortunately, Richard couldn’t return the festive greeting from his clunky Orbital 901 phone as it had no way of inputting text.

Indeed, it wasn’t until one year later that Finnish phone-maker Nokia debuted the first mobile phone that was capable of sending texts.

Early text messages — which had to be painstakingly entered on numerical keypads and typed out fully — were free, but could only be sent between two people on the same network and this would remain the standard for quite a few years.

Today, over 8 trillion text messages are sent around the world each year, no doubt aided by the success of reality TV shows, where viewers are asked to vote by text for their favourite contestant.

Although once viewed as mainly the preserve of younger users, texting has increased in popularity to become the de facto mode of communication for almost all age groups.

Over the years the SMS (short messaging service) has been hailed for its efficiency and ease of use but also blamed for everything from sore thumbs to the decline of conversation and writing standards! At just 190 bytes and 160 characters, the modest text message isn’t the most glamorous or elaborate form of communication, and that’s probably a major reason why it’s become so widespread.

Nevertheless, although the number of texts sent each year continues to grow worldwide, there are signs that in more developed markets at least, its usage is beginning to decline. The widespread popularity of social media and the increasing adoption of smartphones has given people a whole host of new ways to communicate with each other. Why send a text when you can tweet, iMessage, BBM, WhatsApp, or post a status update?

So even though the humble text is only 20 years old, will it live to see its 30s? Indeed, what other ways will we be communicating with each in another 20 years’ time?

Did you know…

According to the Guinness World Records, Melissa Thompson (UK), holds the record for sending the fastest text message on a touch screen phone.

The phone used was a Samsung Galaxy S, with SWYPE technology. The text consisted of 160 characters or 26 words and she sent the following text in just 25.94 seconds on 22 August 2010.

“The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human.”