Without texting, we wouldn’t know how to tell people in three letters that something is laugh out loud (LOL). We wouldn’t have a quick way to express dismay (SMH) and we wouldn’t live in a world where most emotions come down to one emotional image like 😉.
The technology, Short Message Service or SMS, all started with the 16-character message “Merry Christmas.”, sent 30 years ago (December 3) by Neil Papworth, a programmer working on mobile communications technology. But it will be almost another decade before texting and emoticons (character combinations that replace concise facial expressions like 😛 ) sweep through society.
I think it’s safe to say that the Blackberry is to blame for the widespread adoption of texting. Millennials and their idols (oh hey Paris Hilton (opens in a new tab)) carried BlackBerrys and other sports phones with physical keyboards like talismans.
While the iPhone played no role in the early adoption of texting culture, it (and Android phones) helped drive the transformation from a mostly text-based texting culture to one full of graphic emojis.
Now, three decades later, texting has changed the way people communicate forever. A recent study commemorating the 30th anniversary of the first SMS Infobip (opens in a new tab)uncovered fascinating details about how texting changed our lives. (Note that the survey is only available in the US, but we’ve outlined the key findings below.)
Phone calls are almost dead. A survey of 1,000 US consumers found that just 24% still prefer voice over texting and other proxies like WhatsApp and messaging (41%). Of course, younger people are even less likely to answer calls. 53% of the first generation texting millennials would prefer texting, and 48% of Generation Z think the same. If you’re wondering why kids never call again, here’s your answer; however, you are almost guaranteed to get a text on your birthday.
Whenever I go for a drive, I pay attention to all the people involved in one of the world’s most dangerous habits: texting and driving. SMS cannot be blamed for this disgusting practice. SMS was designed for phones with simple, small screens that would be difficult to read while driving. Large, high-definition screen phones have made it all too easy to look down, read a text, then quickly tap out a reply as you pull into the car in front of you.
An Infobip poll found that an alarming 52% of millennials admit to texting and driving. Maybe for SMS’s birthday someone will develop an auto-lock at the OS level that will prevent texting in the car, at least by drivers. No, I don’t know how, but it’s worth thinking about.
Texting almost everywhere is the legacy of SMS. We write during:
- while using the bathroom
- When we have nothing else to do
- 45% of respondents admitted to texting while intoxicated and regretted it.
Texting is also the language of love. We meet on dating apps and then measure the success of that first date by how soon after our date texts us. The whole concept of “ghosting” comes from texting. Over a quarter of men reported being dumped by text (and slightly less than 19% of women). It’s amazing how much romance, happiness and sadness are associated with this technology.
Texting technology has advanced to the point where it can create anticipation. If you’re sending someone something important, you usually stare at the screen waiting for them to reply. Now, of course, you can see when they started writing and when they stopped – it’s a real rollercoaster of emotions.
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It’s only natural that something so deeply ingrained in our culture should also become a forum for one of the most basic human activities – 63% of millennials reported sending sex messages and perhaps to make it less awkward, people have embraced relatively benign emoticons as replacements of body parts and sexual acts.
It could be argued that texting has had a greater impact on our lives than smartphones and social media. Sure, we’re always using our phones and there’s a lot of social media drama, but what do we mostly do with our phones? When you want to communicate with friends, family or lovers, you text them, right?
Happy 30th SMS. I think we’re stuck with you.