Skip to main content

1 Message Received

In 1992, one of the first ever candy bar mobiles, the Nokia 1011, gave you just sixty minutes of talk time. It had enough memory to hold 99 phone numbers and a tiny mono display. Comparing it to the Nokia Lumia 920 is like comparing a Ford Model T with the Space Shuttle, in every way except one. Texting.

This years marks its twentieth birthday and unlike practically every other technology, it’s hardly changed at all in two decades. To celebrate its astonishing impact upon the world, here at Nokia Conversations, we’ve unearthed ten astounding facts about the humble SMS.

ONE. The father of SMS is Matti Makkonen, a Finnish engineer. He came up with the idea of a Message Handling Service for GSM digital mobile phones in 1984 in a pizzeria in Copenhagen, during a conference on the future of mobile communications. Unfortunately, he never received a penny for his pioneering work, because he didn’t apply for a patent.

Matti Makkonen

TWO. The format of 160 characters was determined a year later by a communications researcher, Friedham Hillebrand. While trying to standardize the technology that would allow cellphones to transmit and display messages, he discovered that the average sentence or question needed just 160 characters.

THREE. The first SMS ever sent was in 1992 by Brit Neil Papworth who texted ‘Happy Christmas’ to Vodafone director Richard Jarvis at a staff Christmas party. Papworth sent the Short Messaging Service from his work computer to an Orbitel 901 handset.

FOUR. Today, text messaging is the most widely used mobile data service, with 74% of all mobile phone users worldwide, or 2.4 billion out of 3.3 billion phone subscribers communicating via text message.

Text Usage by Age

FIVE. In 2010, we sent an astonishing 6.1 trillion text messages or 192 000 per second! Our obsession earns the telecoms industry $114.6 billion a year.

SIX. Research has shown that driving while texting is twice as dangerous as drunk driving. One example of distraction behind the wheel is the 2008 Chatsworth train collision, which killed 25 passengers. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the train driver had sent 45 text messages prior to the crash.

No Smoking While Driving

SEVEN. Texting has also created a new lingo, which aims to shorten the number of characters used, such as BRB, LOL G8t. There is a popular view among linguistic researchers that the use of abbreviations and slang, such as those in SMS language, will lead to low literacy and bad spelling among children in the future.

EIGHT. Flirting has changed, too. Sexting is the slang for sending “naughty” messages between two phones and has become increasingly popular, especially among teens. 60% of all teens think sexting is dangerous. 20% do it anyway.


NINE. People have become amazingly adept at this form of communication. In 2005, Sonja Kristiansen of Norway broke the record for the fastest ever text message with the message: “The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality, they seldom attack a human.” The current record is 37.28 seconds.

TEN. Texting is the leading cause of tenosynovitis, which is an inflammation in the thumb caused by constant text-messaging. (It’s like tennis elbow but smaller and less sporty.)


Although it’s hardly changed at all, the humble text message has come a long way in twenty years. Long gone are the days when it was seen as an unnecessary function that would never catch on. Now most of us couldn’t live without it. But will it still be with us twenty years from now? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Image credit: yle