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Teens texting Teens’ most common form of communication is texting, research shows. (Dean Belcher / Stone / Getty Images)

Texting Turns 20!

The first text message was sent 20 years ago this month

By Jennifer Marino Walters | December 10 , 2012

On December 3, 1992, software engineer Neil Papworth tapped out the words Merry Christmas on a computer keyboard to wish a friend a happy holiday. Papworth’s friend received the message on his cell phone. It was the world’s first-ever text message.

That simple holiday greeting began a new craze that changed the way people communicate. Twenty years after Papworth’s first text, 6 billion SMS (short message service) messages are sent each day—more than 2.2 trillion each year—in the United States alone. About 8.6 trillion texts are sent each year around the world.

“We had no idea how big it was going to become,” Papworth told reporters.

Texting is especially popular among teenagers: Research shows that it is teens’ most common form of communication. Last August, 17-year-old Austin Wierschke won the U.S. National Texting Championship—for the second year in a row—for being the nation’s fastest texter.


Papworth may have sent that first text in 1992, but it was Finnish engineer Matti Makkonen who first came up with the idea for texting in 1984. Makkonen is known as the “father of SMS.”

In 1994, Nokia introduced the first phone that allowed easy writing of texts. Texting took off from there, growing more and more popular over the next two decades.

Now, with the popularity of smartphones, texting is finally slowing down. Apps and services such as Apple’s iMessage, Facebook messages, GroupMe, and WhatsApp allow smartphone users to send as many messages as they want without paying per message. (Wireless carriers charge monthly fees or as much as 20 cents per text for standard texting.)

But only half of all cell phones are smartphones, and experts say text messaging probably will not go away anytime soon. In a rare interview—via text messages—Makkonen told BBC News, “I believe that reliable, convenient-to-use text messaging will stay forever.”

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