Happy (belated) birthday, SMS!
The text message turned 25 on Sunday (and now you feel old).
On Dec. 3, 1992, Neil Papworth used a personal computer to write and relay a short sentence via Britain’s Vodafone network to Richard Jarvis’s phone.
The message simply read: “Merry Christmas.”
“I typed the message on a computer keyboard and sent it to an Orbitel 901 handset,” according to Papworth’s personal website. “Those things were enormous!”
He received no reply, as mobile phones at the time could not send texts. Being part of the historic moment, it seems, was thanks enough for the then-22-year-old test engineer.
“I helped develop and test the software, got it working on site, and had the honor of sending the first one to prove that it was working,” Papworth said.
The celebrated event even tops his list of achievements on LinkedIn.
Text messaging functionality dates back to the early 1980s: The Short Message Service (SMS) concept was developed by the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) in 1984.
It took nearly a decade, however, to implement the system.
Following Papworth’s now-infamous text, a handful of countries (including the US) deployed SMS gateways, allowing the dispatching of notifications—usually to announce voicemail—to mobile phones.
But, due to network restrictions and a lack of transmission options, the practice didn’t really take off until more people could send and receive messages and text with friends on different plans.
The advent of smartphones helped, too: Based on data reported by Statistic Brain, the number of text messages sent each month in the US skyrocketed from 12.5 billion in June 2006 to 45 billion in June 2007—when the first iPhone hit shelves.
Those numbers continue to grow, reaching a whopping 781 billion texts-per-month as of this summer.
Now settled in Montreal with his family, Papworth—an “accomplished software designer and architect” with a taste for Formula 1 racing, beer, and curry—has been the subject of worldwide news reports, and was once featured in a Super Bowl ad and flown to London for a movie premiere.
Perhaps his greatest triumph, though, is being an answer to a Jeopardy! question. Livin the dream, man.