H- bday 2 u

December 4, 2012 3:03 pm

SMS is 20. To mark the occasion, The Message looks back at some historically significant texts and assesses the future of messaging

It certainly doesn’t feel like 20 years since the first text message was sent. Granted, that’s probably because, in Australia, it was only in April 2000 that it became possible to send and receive texts to our collective hearts’ – and carriers’ – content (originally, it was a strictly intra-network proposition).

But still, 20 years of instant peer-to-peer content dissemination is good going, and it’s not drawing too long a bow to suggest that the success of SMS not only helped pave the way for social media, but also helped change how people chose to receive their information. SMS made short and sweet sexy, and that remains the case today.

According to Telstra, 12.05 billion text messages were sent on its network this year. That’s a phenomenal amount and yet the signs are that SMS is unlikely to see another 20 years, as Smartphone users are increasingly turning to free messaging apps like WhatsApp (not to mention Viber, BlackBerry Messenger, Apple iMessage and Facebook Messenger) as a personal content-sharing platform.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that 10 billion messages were sent by WhatsApp users around the world in one day earlier this year. So although Australia seems to be bucking the global trend by seeing an increase in the numbers of SMS and MMS sends, chances are we are currently at the apex of the texting universe and the end, when it happens, will be quick.

Already, advances in predictive text technology have seen abbreviations – once so beloved of texters – gradually disappear, so before SMS goes the way of the VHS, let’s take a moment to recall some of its highlights (and lowlights)…

  • ‘Merry Christmas’ – The text of the very first SMS. It was sent on 3 December, 1992, by Vodafone UK employee Neil Papworth, who had been developing the software, to a company director. Because mobile phones did not then have keyboards, Papworth typed out the message on computer, believing it would simply be a means of improving paging rather than revolutionising communication.

Neil Papworth sent the very first text message 20 years ago

  • ‘It’s a DELIBERATE attack  – a second plane just flew into the second tower’ – 9/11 as soon through the SMS of an unknown texter. Wikileaks recently released a full record of all texts sent at the time, providing a second-by-second account of the attacks.
  • ‘You almost just ruined my whole life’ – What would SMS be without a good old-fashioned scandal. We could have plumped (no pun intended) for Shane Warne’s well-reported predilection for sexting, but on a global scale, the whole Tiger Woods scandal takes some beating. This was the last message the disgraced golfing superstar sent to porn star Joslyn James. The others were rather more… suggestive!
  • ‘Hello from Earth’ The message send on 28 August, 2009, from the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex. The target is Gliese 581d – a red dwarf star with its own planetary system scientists believe may be capable of supporting life. It will be interesting to see the reply…
  • ‘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’ – the text used by Guinness World Records in its official speed-text challenge. The current record (predictive text-excluding) is 37.28 seconds.

 

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