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SMS texting turns 20

The first text message was unnecessary and poorly-timed, setting the pattern for the billions of texts that whizzed through the ether in the subsequent 20 years. On December 3 1992, Neil Papworth used his computer to send a "Merry Christmas" text to his friend Richard Jarvis, who worked for Vodafone. Jarvis then had a year to wait before he could send a reply as texting from phones wasn’t possible until 1993.

Texting was a killer app before the term killer app was invented. There had been a hard-core corner of consumer resistance to the mobile phone from people who simply didn’t want to be bugged by phone calls wherever they were. The possibility of SMS made it possible to stay in touch without the hassle of actually speaking to people. It was an option that appealed to the antisocial millions across the globe.

Texting was still a little slow to take off, until the invention of predictive texting in 1995, and the simultaneous realisation by the phone networks that they could charge for a service that was relatively cheap in terms of data requirements.

The popularity of texting escalated exponentially, overhauling voice calls and, by 2001, reaching a level where Britons were sending a billion texts a month, which, at a rough estimate was a business worth £100 million a month (these were the days before unlimited text bundles were required to cater for teenagers’ needs).

Texting created a new language, an ugly melange of symbols, numbers and emoticons that sidestepped conventional grammar and appalled a generation of parents still typing out everything in long form. Inevitably, any new technology is immediately tweaked for its erotic potential and "sexting" was born, starting off as the relatively innocent exchange of fantasies, then heading off into the dangerous territory of explicit picture messaging.

Twenty years after its launch, text messaging is beginning to fall in frequency. Partly this can be explained by all the new ways of sending instant messages. In the age of broadcasting instant Twitter inanity, texting has become just a little passé.

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