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SMS is not as relevant as it once used to be. But it has bequeathed us a rich legacy

It has created its own mode of communication, its own social etiquettes, its own grammar, its own abbreviations, its own language, even. All these, either modified or in forms in which they originally came into being, continue to exist on the new messaging apps. What’s more, they have entered the mainstream lexicon, and transcend messaging.

editorials Updated: Dec 15, 2017 14:06 IST
Hindustan Times
SMS,Neil Papworth,Whatsapp
The most enduring legacy of the SMS will be the vanishing of the end-stopped sentence. Text messages led to the death of the period. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

December 3 saw the 25th anniversary of the birth of the SMS (short messaging service). On that day in 1992, Neil Papworth, a Vodafone engineer, sent the world’s first SMS to a company director of his. It said ‘Merry Christmas’. At the time, it was not possible to reply to a text message.

How far we have come in a quarter of a century. Text messages usurped, defined, and altered the business of communication. Year on year, the number of text messages sent across the world began to balloon. As a mode of communication, it hit a peak in 2012. And then, as with all game changers that lie at the cusp of technology, society and culture, the text message began to be overtaken – and then overwhelmed – by Internet-based messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook messenger.

With the evolution of technology, these new messaging apps offer what text messages could not: audio; video; emojis; and the freedom to not pay per text, but to fund each message from a previously paid-for data pack. Text messages nowadays largely exist for two things: they are the source of a lot of spam; and they are the platform on which the final loop is closed on digital transactions (the one-time password to finalise a purchase arrives from the seller to the buyer in the form of a text message).

The SMS may not be as relevant as it once used to be. But it has bequeathed us a rich legacy. It has created its own mode of communication, its own social etiquettes, its own grammar, its own abbreviations, its own language, even. All these, either modified or in forms in which they originally came into being, continue to exist on the new messaging apps. What’s more, they have entered the mainstream lexicon, and transcend messaging.

LOL, CU, gr8, ur, dat are emphatically embedded in the mainstream of social intercourse. Necessitated by unwieldy phone keyboards, and then encouraged by laziness, these contractions have endured, and thrived. You could argue both in their favour, and against them. You could say that language is something that is continually, organically evolving, and ought to have the catholicity to be able to include new additions and quirks. You could just as well argue that sloppy language is no language at all, that it is the desecration of language.

But the most enduring legacy of the SMS will be the vanishing of the end-stopped sentence. Text messages led to the death of the period.

First Published: Dec 15, 2017 14:04 IST