Skip to main content

Texting Officially Turns 20 Years Old Today; Papa Reflects

The convenient service we all now take for granted on a daily basis – texting – officially turned twenty years old on December 3. The first text message sent on that day in 1992 was "Merry Christmas" from a PC to a mobile device using Vodafone's UK network. In a sense, it was a gift to everyone who would one day use a smartphone, tablet or instant message client.

A reluctant "father of SMS" (short message service) Matti Makkonen recently reflected on his creation with BBC News technology reporter Leo Kellon. He said the idea behind that first message – a mobile phone messaging service – actually dated back to 1984 while eating pizza at a telecoms conference.

In an interview supposedly conducted via SMS, Makkonen said that the SMS service was developed for quick business needs on the "revolutionary mobile communications system". It wasn't a patentable innovation, he said, but he was still glad to be a part of its overall concept as part of the then-budding GSM standard.

"I did not consider SMS as a personal achievement but as a result of a joint effort to collect ideas and write the specifications of the services based on them," he said.

There were eight years between the time he conceived the  standard for texting and when the first text message was sent to a smartphone. But he said that texting didn't really "launch" until Nokia introduced its Nokia 2010 phone back in 1994 which allowed users to write and send messages. Now 20 years after the "Merry Christmas" digital greeting, paying per message has become a thing of the past. SMS messaging has become mere texting, and will likely stay for years to come... forever if you ask Makkonen.

"I believe that the reliable, convenient use of texting will stay forever," he said.

He goes on in the interview to reveal that he avoids text speak at all cost, communicating in correct Finnish using all 160 characters rather than using half-typed words and makeshift symbols. But he does acknowledge texting as a way to develop a new language that uses more symbols and less characters.

"I love the touchscreen," he admits. "Slow enough to think and sometimes even edit what I write."

Just to put things in perspective, in the same month the first text message was sent and received, Amy Fisher was sentenced 5 to 15 years in prison for shooting Mary Jo Buttafuoco on December 1st. NBC announced that "Cheers" would finally come to an end in May 1993, Operation Restore Hope was taking place in Somalia, and the Galileo spacecraft zipped by the moon's North Pole (Peary Crater).

Even more, the last episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "All Good Things...", aired seventeen months after the first text message, ending the popular series on May 23, 1994. That was the same year Nokia launched its monochrome candybar-shaped Nokia 2010 which Makkonen deemed as the true official launch platform for SMS messaging.

To read the full balloon-filled interview, head over to BBC News here.


Contact Us for News Tips, Corrections and Feedback