tech tuesday: merry sms-mas

Happy birthday to the very first “Merry Christmas” SMS… 20 years ago, Dec. 3, 1992, Neil Papworth of Semea Group Telecoms sent the world’s first short message service text for Vodaphone to Richard Jarvis who received it on an Orbatel 901 mobile phone.

What a long way we’ve come in 20 years.

The first message was received via a mobile devise that alone cost more in “real dollars” than what many of us spend in a year for our actual cellular connectivity and the reception device(s) combine.

We take for granted the on-the-fly messaging capability it represented. And, the mobility it provided in communication. And the discrete spontaneity it created.

We easily adapted to the character count it impressed. And the dexterity in navigating the limitations of T9 and early mobile keyboards. And overcame the social considerations of it.

There should be no underestimating its impact yet I truly believe we take for granted what it actually created in us as interactive beings.


Previous to mass consumption of SMS there was a consideration of the potential reply time. One would not simply call a family member, friend or colleague at any hour of the night for anything other than an emergency as there was an inherent etiquette to the land line. Email was primarily locked to desktop or laptop dial-up connectivity which inherently came with delay expectations. SMS introduced a discrete simple reply allowance that circumvented the typical connection minutes or cumbersome internet portal for email.

The progression of SMS adoption was stymied by the carriers who attributed the excess network access to potential lag in other services and saw the potential for profits which is why the adoption was a double billing model of sender and receiver both incur fees. The desire of the consumer though outweighed and adoption forced carriers to rethink the model and as the access albatross was shirked consumption grew beyond interpersonal considerations.

SMS provided real time, direct access to individuals that didn’t have to be invasive or intrusive like a phone call, without the access and filtration limitations of email and gave people one-to-one access to one another that provided a mobility that even the developing infrastructure of web based instant messaging couldn’t compete with


As communication technology has changed so has the way individuals (and groups) communicate. How we use language and what our expectations of language are are driven in part by vocalization by perhaps even moreso by fixed. As more communication appears to move to fixed (written but not in the physical chisel to stone / pencil to paper sense) identity the interpretation of dialog becomes that much more vital as it becomes more subtle use of a fixed character set than the more open execution that occurs throughout interpersonal communication relying on “tone of voice including tambre, pitch, volume and inherent sentiment” non vocal cues like “body position, eye contact, physical responses, etc” and other interpretations such as xenophobic interpretation of the person and backdrop, previous history of similar circumstances, etc. After generations of this knowledge SMS with it’s flat 160 char digital delivery was devoid of all the social expectation, interpersonal cues and inherent communication understanding as developed throughout childhood to perceive trust, respect and mutual understanding.

The compensation was to develop a language of acronyms, short cuts, emoticons and social taxonomy that delinted both the form of communication from others (similar to how traditonal spoken work in person differed from early telephony communication differs from teleconferencing, how early letter writing differed from postal delivery writing differs from morse code writing differs from SMS writing) and created a necessary language in and of itself


About thedoormouse

I am I. That’s all that i am. my little mousehole in cyberspace of fiction, recipes, sacrasm, op-ed on music, sports, and other notations both grand and tiny:
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