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The Text Message Turns 20
December 3, 2012

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The text message is 20 years old. That's as of December 3, 2012.

Neil Papworth, a U.K. engineer, sent the first text message to a colleague on December 3, 1992. The text ended with the words "Merry Christmas."

Papworth, who is 42 now but was 22 then, was working for Semea Group Telecoms, on a mobile message project for European cellular giant Vodafone. On the day in question, someone at Vodafone wanted to send a message to one its directors, Richard Jarvis, who was at a Christmas party. So Papworth typed out a message on a computer and sent it off to Jarvis's mobile phone. Then, Papworth added the Christmas wishes.

At the time, mobile phone could receive text message but not send them. And at the time, mobile phones were as large as landline phones. Since then, however, text messaging has become immensely popular, particularly since mobile phones got smaller and could send messages as well as receive them.

The International Telecommunications Union reported that in 2010, more than 6 trillion text messages were sent worldwide, at a rate of about 200,000 a minute. Similar figures are expected for the past two years, although recent reports have noted a downward trend in many countries.

In 2012, now that smartphones are enabling many more options than straight-texting (like Twitter and Facebook Chat and Google Chat and Instant Message and instantly accessed email), many mobile phone users have many more alternatives to verbal conversations. However, in developing countries where widespread Internet access is not an option, text messaging is still the prime text-based mobile communication system.






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