Text Messaging Turns 20, Users Still Figuring It All Out

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2012-12-04 Print this article Print
To Call or to Text?

To Call or to Text?

Since the first text message was sent 20 years ago, the format has become commonplace to users. Nearly half of adults between the ages of 18 and 34 now believe texting is "as meaningful" a way to communicate as a phone call, according to the latest Simmons National Consumer Study.


Text messaging, the beloved communication tool of young people, turned 20 years old Dec. 3. On that day in 1992, a British engineer named Neil Papworth sent the first text message. Far from also initiating Txtspk, Papworth didn't even go for the natural abbreviation, telling the recipient of his message, simply: "Merry Christmas." Today, the average 20 year old sends more than 2,000 texts a month, receives more than 1,800 messages, and has messages coming in and going out at almost literally all hours, according to a new Simmons National Consumer Study. In a 30-day month, that's about 126 texts per day—which is up from the 109.5 text messages per day that a September 2011 Pew Internet & American Life Project found 18 to 24 year olds to be sending or receiving each day. The idea for text messaging was put forward at a telecom conference in 1984 by a Finn named Matti Makkonen, who has since done his best to shrug off the title of "father of SMS," or Short Message Service. He insists others did more to make the idea a reality. In a Dec. 2 interview with the BBC—conducted over text message—Makkonen said that at the time he viewed SMS as simply a feature of the burgeoning mobile communications system, something "very useful for quick business needs." When asked if he had any other big ideas for the future, Makkonen responded—sans winking emoticon—"Not my idea but integration of mobile content display to my eyeglasses would be nice. Maybe someone is working with it?"


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