Without texting, we wouldn't know how to tell people in three letters that something is laughing out loud (LOL). We wouldn't have a quick way to convey dismay (SMH), and we wouldn't live in a world where most emotions boil down to a single emotional image like 😉.
The technology, Short Message Service, or SMS, began with a 16-character message, "Merry Christmas," sent 30 years ago (December 3) by Neil Papworth, a programmer working on mobile messaging technology. But it would be nearly another decade before text messages and emoticons (character combinations that replace pithy facial expressions, like :-P) took society by storm.
I think it's fair to say that we have Blackberry to thank for the widespread adoption of SMS. Millennials and their idols (oh, hey, Paris Hilton (opens in a new tab)) carried their BlackBerries and other phones with physical keyboards as talismans.
Although the iPhone didn't play a role in the early adoption of SMS culture, (along with Android phones) it helped transform a largely text-based SMS culture into one riddled with graphic emojis.
Now, three decades later, texting has forever changed the way humans communicate. A recent study commemorating the 30th anniversary of Infobip's first SMS (opens in a new tab) revealed fascinating details about how SMS has changed our lives. (Note that the survey is only accessible in the United States, but we've highlighted the key findings below.)
Phone calls are practically dead. The survey of 1000 US consumers found that only 24% still prefer voice calls to SMS communications and other SMS proxies such as WhatsApp and instant messaging (41%). Naturally, young people are even less likely to answer the calls. 53% of the original texting generation, Millennials, would rather text, and 48% of GenZers think the same. If you wonder why children don't call anymore, here is the answer; however, you're pretty much guaranteed to get a text on your birthday.
Every time I take a walk, I notice that everyone is involved in one of the most dangerous habits on the planet: texting and driving. SMS cannot be blamed for this egregious practice. SMS was designed for phones with small, plain screens that would be difficult to read while driving. Large, high-resolution screen phones have made it very easy to look down, read a text, and then quickly type a response as you get into the car in front of you.
Infobip's survey found that an alarming 52% of millennials admit to texting while driving. Maybe for SMS's birthday, someone will develop an OS-level autoblock that makes it impossible for drivers to text in the car, if nothing else. No, I don't know how, but it's worth thinking about.
Texting almost anywhere is a legacy of texting. We send text messages during:
- When using the bathroom
- When we have nothing else to do
- 45% of those surveyed admitted to drunk texting and regretting it.
Text messages are also the language of love. We meet on dating apps and then measure the success of that first date for how long after our date texted us. The whole concept of "ghosting" comes from texting. More than a quarter of men said they had been dumped over text (and just under 19% of women). It's amazing how much romance, happiness, and sadness are tied to this technology.
Texting technology has evolved to the point where it can trigger anticipation. If you send someone an important message, you usually just stare at the screen waiting for them to reply. Now of course you can see when they started tapping and when they stopped - it's a roller coaster of emotions.
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It's only natural that something that has become so deeply ingrained in our culture should also become a forum for one of the most basic human activities: 63% of millennials said they send sexting messages, and perhaps to make it less awkward, people have embraced relatively benign emojis as stand-ins for body parts and sexual acts.
Arguably, texting has had a bigger impact on our lives than smartphones and social media. Sure, we're always on our phones and there's a lot of drama on social media, but what do we do with our phones the most? When you want to communicate with friends, family or lovers, you send them a text, right?
Happy 30 SMS. I guess we're stuck with you.