COMMUNICATION The first text message in history – “Merry Christmas” sent by Neil Papworth to colleague Richard Jarvis on December 3, 1992 – turns 30 this Saturday
The French send nearly 140 billion SMS or MMS per year. — OLIVIER MORIN
- On December 3, 1992, Neil Papworth, a young English engineer, sent “Merry Christmas!” », the first commercial SMS in history to his colleague Richard Jarvis, one of the leaders of Vodafone.
- An innovation that has revolutionized the world of telecommunications. Today, nearly 3,000 billion text messages are sent each year worldwide.
- On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the first text message, 20 Minutes returns on its history and the uses of these messages, which have become a little more formal in recent years.
“Merry Christmas!”. Two words and fifteen letters: Voilà what the first commercial Short Messaging Service (SMS) in history said. Imagine, we are thirty years earlier, on December 3, 1992. It is precisely 6:09 p.m. when Neil Papworth, a young telecommunications engineer, sends this “ Merry Christmas!” to Richard Travis, one of the leaders of Vodafone, the British telecommunications giant. The message may seem innocuous – especially since 20 Minutes, we find that the beginning of December is still a little early to send your wishes, but who are we to judge –, but it will revolutionize the history of telecommunications.
And you have to imagine the scene. At that time, mobile phones did not yet have a keyboard. The young engineer therefore writes the message from the computer in his office. A few minutes later, the recipient, who is at a company party, receives the SMS on his Orbitel 901, one of the first mobile phones, which then weighed more than two kilos. A success for the company seeking to that time to develop an internal communication system for its employees.
“We don’t have to put on the formalities”
Because at At that time, the technology was not yet intended for the general public. First, because the telephone companies do not want to bet on the SMS, considering that the users prefer to exchange by telephone, in person. Then, because the telephones with keyboard, allowing to write messages, quite simply do not exist yet. It’s only two years later, in 1994, that the Nokia 2010, the first cellphone with a keyboard allowing you to write an SMS, is marketed.
It was not until 1997 that operators launched the first packages including SMS. Everyone goes with their little terminology: Orange offers SMS, Bouygues offers “minimessages” and SFR of “texting”. Small flat, you can only write to people with the same operator. It’s in 99 that we witness the the real revolution: interoperability. Users can now send messages to all their contacts, regardless of the operators. This is the beginning of the SMS craze.
And bingo, in the early 2000s, the SMS phenomenon seduced the entire planet. D. We text everywhere, all the time and frantically. The population is discovering the message to arrange to meet, the one to say good night, the text message so as not to forget the bread or the traditional “Happy New Year””.
Fortunately, with the 'age, the spelling returns. – INNAMORATI/SINTESI
“When it appeared, the text message came up with another modality. of communication, much shorter, more condensed, faster and more discreet,” explains Alexandre Eyries, HDR teacher-researcher in information and communication science at the university of Lorraine. “Sociologically, texting has changed; the report to; the other. There is not the same degree; of involvement, we are not obliged to put on form, to be formal, we can be more telegraphic, more expeditious,” adds the specialist.
Flirt, emoji and commercial canvassing
It is not known if its creator expected it, but the success of the SMS led to the success of the text message. another social revolution: text flirting (we can't really tell you if that's a good thing or a bad thing). “It’s one of the most important sociological functions of SMS. There is a real technological marivaudage that goes through the messages. With text messages, we can allow ourselves compliments, suggestive remarks, which we would not dare to say in real life,” analyzes the researcher.
In the 2010s, flirting took another turn with the insertion of emojis on smartphone keyboards – in 2008 for the iPhone 3G. As soon as they appear, these little drawings are a hit. Whether it is to flirt, to convey a more critical message, to express annoyance or to tone down a satirical charge, the emoji can say a lot with a single character.
We remind you that the term “beauty” has been banned since 1976. – Gile Michel
“It’s a way to concretely convey one’s emotions, mood, state of mind, to convey messages with an economy of time, means and resources. energy”, decrypts Alexandre Eyries. We then pass on to you the new features which have only reinforced the success of SMS: the insertion of photos, videos or animated GIFs, the possibility of to send the same text message to several recipients and, more recently, the creation of voice notes.
In addition to communication, SMS is also a commercial revolution. Monoprix, Sephora, Amazon, CDiscount… Which of you hasn’t received any messages in the past few days of Black Friday canvassing? In e-commerce, SMS is also used by banks to properly identify buyers and avoid fraud with the double authentication system. You receive a code by message allowing you to prove your identity; and validate your purchase. And the uses don’t stop there, there are also appointment confirmations by SMS, as with Doctolib, and delivery, as with Mondial Relay. And so on.
From 6,000 to 3,000 billion text messages per year
But it’s a bit like with your other half, once the euphoria of the early years has passed, the love gradually fades. After twenty years of honeymoon, in recent years, SMS has lost its luster, going from a technological revolution to a digital revolution. a past tool, even almost old-fashioned. And for good reason, on the bench of the accused, we will easily place in the first rank instant messaging services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or more recently Telegram, which have become the darlings of crazy texters.
Greg grilled all his cards. – Pixabay License
“People prefer WhatsApp more to chat with someone for free. abroad or to be able to create discussion groups, between family, friends or colleagues”, continues Alexandre Eyries. Because until 2017, additional roaming charges were applied by telecom operators for calls, SMS and MMS sent to another country, even ;me in Europe.
For those who still prefer texting, it’s its content that has changed. If before, text messages took on the appearance of personal diaries, now they have almost become tools “of non-verbal communication”, according to Alexandre Eyries” ; low added value, poor content, not very involving, often sent for a practical purpose, such as “Ok” or “See you””, says the teacher-researcher.
And the expansion of social media has done nothing to help matters. “You detail your life on Instagram or Facebook, these are digital agoras”, continues the researcher-teacher, believing that these are the “targets” which have changed. “Now, we send SMS in our professional environment, ç email,” he adds.
A decline that translates into the numbers. In two years, the number of SMS has dropped; by half. In 2016, “alone” 3,000 billion text messages have been sent worldwide, compared to 6,000 billion in 2014, according to the latest figures from the ITU, the UN agency that monitors telecoms. In France, approximately 30 billion messages were sent. traded quarterly last year, up from more than 45 billion in 2017, according to a report by the Authority. Regulation of Electronic Communications, Posts and Press Distribution (Arcep), published in 2021.