On December 3, 1992, a British engineer named Neil Papworth sent the first text message: “Merry Christmas.” Txtspk came along later.
Six billion SMS (short message service) messages are sent every day in the United States, according to Forrester Research, and over 2.2 trillion are sent a year. Globally, 8.6 trillion text messages are sent each year, according to Portio Research.
The idea for text messaging was put forward at a telecom conference in 1984 by a Finn named Matti Makkonen, who has since done his best to shrug off the title of “father of SMS,” or Short Message Service. He insists others did more to make the idea a reality.
SMS messaging is expected to be a $150 billion-a-year industry in 2013, with carriers charging set monthly fees for unlimited texting, or as much as 20 cents per text. The actual cost to carriers for sending a text message is about 0.03 cents.
Some emergency response call centers are beginning to accept text messages sent to 911. There are still lingering concerns about the practice, including lack of location information, confirmation that the message was received, and timeliness of messages. Verizon plans to launch limited SMS-to-911 services in early 2013.
Text messages have a dangerous side. Texting while driving is a risky activity, and sending or reading a single text can distract a driver for approximately 4.6 seconds, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Thirty-nine states have banned text messaging while driving. Distracted texters have also been injured or killed while biking and walking.
Text messaging technology has popped up in some fascinating places over the years. Swiss dairy farmers have implanted sensors in cows to detect when the cows are in heat. A second sensor with a SIM card in the cow’s neck sends a text message to the farmer, who can then take appropriate action, according to The New York Times.