SMS has lived a full life in the last two decades, from being a rarity to becoming ubiquitous to gently fading out. But it has changed the way we communicate forever
Do you remember the days when the phone was only an instrument to make phone calls with or those tome-like telephone directories, and when one had to remember important phone numbers for family and friends? If you have to make an effort to remember it, there is good reason. Without us realising it, the first breakthrough feature which converted the mobile phone into more than just a talking instrument, the text messaging system, generally known as the SMS, celebrated 20 years this month.
The credit goes to Matti Makkonen who is fondly remembered as “the father of SMS” but the first text message was sent on the December 3, 1992, by the British engineer Neil Papworth who typed “Merry Christmas” on his PC to an Orbitel 901 phone using the Vodafone service. The first ever SMS remained unanswered, a lonely voice in the spectrum, because there were no devices yet built to reply to texting. Initially conceived as a notification service to inform users that they have voice mail, the SMS soon offered other possibilities of mobile communication, and Nokia, in 1993, became the first company to make GSM handsets capable of texting.
In the early days, it was feared that the silence that greeted Papworth’s Christmas message, might be the future of the SMS service as the feature received a less than warm welcome. In 1995, for instance, people sent an average of 0.4 text messages per month. However, as computing and processing speeds increased rapidly, even as costs of mobile communication became affordable, texting picked up. In the early days, the SMS exchange was limited only to people on the same telecommunication network, but in 2000, commercial services standardised the protocols for inter-carrier sharing of text messages.
In the last 12 years, we have seen the rise of thumb-tribes and text-cultures, where, in 2011, we exchanged around 8 trillion messages, averaging at a global output of approximately two lakh