08 December, 2012

Twenty years of the text message revolution

I am reliably informed by Radio 4 that it’s twenty years ago this week that the first text message was sent. At the time no one envisaged—even remotely—how popular this technology would become. Around 150 billion text messages were sent in the UK last year, yet twenty years ago, it was Vodaphone’s intention to use SMS as an internal tool, a means by which its PAs could contact their bosses when they were on the move.

I've never really been won over by the text message revolution. Nor by mobile phones, for that matter. I’ve actually had a mobile phone from quite early on, acquiring my first brick-like model in 1999. But this was nothing to do with wanting to be ahead of the technological curve. Rather, it was because at that time I was commuting long distances in an ancient car and didn’t want to find myself stranded with no means of calling for help.

Some fourteen years later, I’m still not an enthusiastic mobile user. I’ve upgraded my old brick, but still have a pretty basic Nokia. No smart phone or advanced features for me. My mobile is mainly used for child-related purposes—the school can contact me if my kids are sick, and I can call school if I’m caught up in traffic and may be late for pick-up time.

There’s something that I dislike about the immediacy of mobile communication. I find it mildly irritating that you’re expected to be available and ready to take calls and messages 24/7. When I’m out of the house or office and away from my land line I rather like the feeling of being out of contact, of having a few moments’ precious time to myself, without the constant interruptions of modern life.

All of this will have to change, though, when my eldest child goes to secondary school in a few months. I know that if I want to be kept up to date with my offspring’s movements and whereabouts I’ll have to adopt texting wholeheartedly. And at that point I will (gritting my teeth!) have to purchase a smart phone. With the failing eyesight and lack of dexterity that accompanies middle age, I find typing on my phone’s tiny keypad nigh impossible.

One of the questions brought up by Radio 4 was what will replace the text message? Since technologies are fast moving and transient, high tech companies are always looking for the next best thing. One journalist suggested that perhaps ‘the great silence’ will follow the text revolution. Maybe the novelty of instant communication will simply lose its appeal. That would certainly fit with my current world view. But, in reality, I can’t quite believe it. Nor would I want this to happen. As I gear up to embrace 24/7 communication, the thought that my eldest child might not communicate with me while out and about and on the move fills me with dread.

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