It was 25 years ago this week that the very first short message service (SMS) text-based message was sent to a mobile phone.
On December 3, 1992, Neil Papworth, a British engineer, sent a very simple message from his computer to Vodafone director Richard Jarvis. It simply read "Merry Christmas."
Today, of course, that message would likely be accompanied by a series of festive emojis: a Christmas tree, wreath, sparkling champagne, present, perhaps? Your phone might even predict which image you want to use, and even turn your facial expressions into an animated unicorn or panda likeness with the latest iPhones. Maybe you'll decide to communicate using a video instead of just text and animated pictures, or add funny meme to further get your point across. But back in the early says of mobile phones, messages were either strictly voice or strictly text-based - just plain 'ol letters and numbers.
What's more, back at the time when Papworth sent his missive, he couldn't even get a reply - you could only receive messages, not send them from a mobile device. And Millennials, believe it or not, but in the early days of texting, you had to (eek!) pay for SMS. And cross-device messaging didn't exist at one point - you could only send SMS to others using the same wireless carrier network as you. (Thankfully, all carriers now place nicely with one another.)
I recall the hoopla in Toronto when Rogers brought Canadian actor William Shatner in to celebrate the launch of video calling through the Rogers Network. It was a huge deal. To think that the ability to call someone via video was "big" news not so long ago - it has barely been a decade since - is a staggering realization, and truly shows just how far we've come in such a short period of time.
Of course today, text messaging is about as passé as e-mail. We use social media now instead, along with instant messaging, which is far more dynamic and reliable, video, and a plethora of other ways to communicate. Many of the context issues that existed with traditional text messaging have been resolved with emojis (that smiley face confirms it's a joke, or pondering emoji denotes sarcasm). But some argue our overuse of emojis may be dumbing down society, not helping. Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel has event featured segments where he tells an entire story using just emojis. (It's frighteningly easy to understand, once he explains the meaning behind each image.)
Despite how far we've come, the ability to send text-based messages was a revelation once it became commonplace. Parents turned up their noses, urging kids to simply pick up the phone and call them, for gosh sakes! Nothing has really changed in that respect, except now kids can be far more expressive through messaging than they had ever dreamed of. It's not even about kids: my girlfriends and I joked once after a lengthy session of back and forth IM memes that we could realistically have entire conversations using just those - no words needed.
Accrding to Statista, Canadians sent and received 200 billion SMS and MMS messages in 2016, but that was actually just slightly up from 201 billion in 2012. While the numbers may remain steady, it's notbecause of increased usage, but likely due to higher smartphone penetration. And then, of course, there are those text messages that are sent by default when you don't have an active wireless connection, or are traveling and want to save on data. Though the latest roaming plans make it more cost-effective to use data, and thus instant messaging and social media, while traveling, too. So text messaging will likely continue to decline as data packages become more affordable.
It's fitting that as we head deep into the holiday season, the very first SMS that was sent was a greeting of joy for this time of year. So Happy Anniversary, Text Message! You paved the way for the multiple types of smartphone-based communications we see today. It all began with two simple words.
Do you remember what the first text message you ever sent said? If so, share it in the comments below!