It was 20 years ago today that the first text message was sent. It was Dec. 3, 1992, and Neil Papworth, an engineer working in the UK, sent the world's first short message service or SMS. It read "Merry Christmas."
But while most are entering their prime at age 20, the text message might just be past its glory years.
The History -- In More Than 160 Characters
Papworth, however, was in his prime when he hit the send button on that first text. At the age of 22, Papworth was working for a company called Semea Group Telecoms, which had been working on a mobile messaging project for Vodafone, a European cellular carrier.
"It happened that day that Vodafone wanted to try sending a message to Richard Jarvis, one of the directors there, who was at a Christmas party. So we sat at the computer and typed him a message and then sent him the message 'Merry Christmas,'" Papworth told ABC News. "For me it was just another day's testing, it didn't seem to be anything big at the time."
But, of course, it turned into something very big -- at least once some of the consumer technology caught up. On that day in 1992, Papworth didn't send the first message with his thumbs on a mobile phone. He sent it from a big computer in one of Vodafone's offices to a Orbatel 901 mobile phone, which was the size of of today's office phones, Papworth explains.
(Papworth isn't the inventor of the text message; the origins of the idea date back to 1984 when Matti Makkonen, a Finnish engineer, was working with Nokia on mobile messaging.)
At that time, you could only receive messages on phones; you couldn't actually send messages from phones until a year or so later when phones from Nokia and others had the proper capabilities.
"Years went on and people were able to start to send text messages. It took quite a few years of it to take off," Papworth said. "But by the 10th anniversary it was fairly big by then."
The Rise and Start of the Fall
And it became even bigger than that. In 2010, the International Telecommunications Union reported that 200,000 text messages were sent every minute and 6.1 trillion texts were sent worldwide. In June 2012, the CTIA mobile trade group reported that 184.3 billion text messages were sent a month in the United States -- up from 28.9 billion a month in 2007.
But in 2012, there is building evidence that text messaging is past its peak as more and more people have smartphones and use e-mail, instant messaging, iMessage, and other mobile messaging services to communicate.