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25 years ago: the world’s first text message

It's been 25 years since the first text message was sent.
It's been 25 years since the first text message was sent.
By Euronews
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It was both simple and easy to read: “Merry Christmas” - not “Xmas”.


The British engineer who sent the world's first text message says he's quite proud of the mini revolution he started 25 years ago.

Neil Papworth sent the first SMS ('short message service') to Richard Jarvis, then director of Vodafone.

The message was quite simple: "Merry Christmas" - and it was not abbreviated to 'Xmas'.

Jarvis was unable to reply - at the time it was not possible to send text messages from mobile phones, only to receive them. Papworth had sent the SMS from his computer.

It wasn’t until 1993 that mobile phones could send messages back.

London's Science Museum says the SMS marked a turning point in the history of phones and communications. Phones had already been around for more than a century but the SMS changed their function - making talking optional.

"For the very first time we have mobile telephones which are more than just literal mobile telephones, we're moving beyond voice communications to a new application of the mobile spectrum to sending, literally, text messages,” said Elizabeth Bruton, Curator of Technology at the Science Museum.

“We can see that continuation through to today where we have hundreds of thousands if not millions of applications on our smartphone, so that SMS can be considered the first step towards the modern smartphone."

Changing our behaviours

Text messages have also deeply changed social norms of interaction. Rather than calling someone - interrupting them and demanding their immediate attention - they allow people to choose when they wish to reply.

This has made them a 'softer' and extremely popular form of communication - though it has recently lost ground to instant messaging via social media.

According to Sky News, some 66 billion text messages were sent in the UK in the year 2007, and by 2012 that had more than doubled to 151 billion.

However some warn the short messages are no match for speaking with someone in person.

"When you send someone a text message you often lose a lot of the context that you might get when you are speaking face to face," says social media expert Toby Beresford.

"And that's a real challenge for us in the new era."

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