Interpersonal Communication: Text Messaging

Text messaging is described as the exchange of short text messages. Text messages can be sent via mobile phones, fixed-line phone, and portable or fixed devices over a network. Originally, text messaging only referred to Short Message Service (SMS) messages but as technology improved, text messaging also includes Multimedia Message Service (MMS) messages. While SMS is only text-based, MMS messages contain pictures, sound, images, animation, and video. The person who sends a text message is called a “texter” and separate regions may have different colloquialisms. In Australia, India, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and North America, text messaging is simply known as a text. In other parts of Europe, it’s SMS, and in Asia and the Middle East, it’s SMS or TMS. Since it’s very easy to send a text, many people find it very convenient to use SMS or MMS for communication, alerts, business, and so on. Nowadays, famous people like entertainers, sports personalities, politicians, and other influential people can use text messaging to reach their fans via the Twitter platform.


The history of text messaging began when Sema Group test engineer Neil Papworth sent a text message to Richard Jarvis through the Vodafone network by using his personal computer. Sent on December 3, 1992, the message simply read “Merry Christmas”. The limit of a standard SMS message is 140 bytes per message. With 7-bit encoding, a texter can send a maximum of 160 characters if the English alphabet is used. In the early days, text messaging was not so popular and one GSM customer only sent an average of 0.4 messages per month in 1995. Since the operators were not up to speed in setting up charging systems and eliminating billing fraud, the general public was not too enthusiastic to use text messaging. Now, SMS is available on 3G networks as well as a wide range of other networks and it’s the most popular mobile data service. At the end of 2007, 74 percent of mobile phone users around the world are active users of SMS. More than 85 percent of the population in countries like Finland, Norway, and Sweden use SMS. At the end of 2008, close to 60 percent of North Americans and about 80 percent of Europeans are known to be active users of SMS. In the Philippines, subscribers send an average of 27 text messages a day.


Text messaging is highly popular with private mobile users because they can communicate with each other even when they cannot use voice communication. SMS is also widely used in regions where it’s much cheaper to send a text message than to make a voice call. SMS is used in home automation systems to control certain appliances so users can switch them on or off. Flash SMS is suitable to be used to warn people of an emergency and it can also be used to send a one-time password to protect the confidentiality of the user. Nowadays, text messaging is used for various purposes so users have access to sports updates or scores, news, alerts from companies, infotainment, banking services, ticket booking, mobile billing, and the like. Companies also use SMS to deliver Premium-rated Short Messages where subscribers have to pay premium rates for receiving financial information, news alerts, ringtones, logos, and more. Businesses use SMS to provide updates, reminders, time-critical alerts, content, and run mobile campaigns, competitions, media voting, mobile social networking services, dating services, and so on. SMS is particularly popular in Asia, Australia, Europe, New Zealand, and the United States. In 2001, subscribers in China sent some 18 billion text messages but the champion text messaging country must surely be the Philippines where subscribers sent about 142 billion text messages per year.

Social Impacts

One of the social impacts of text messaging is the effect on language. Due to the small phone keypad and the charges for sending messages, users have come up with a number of adaptations and abbreviations like “lol” for “laugh out loud”, “brb” for “be right back”, “HMU” for “hit me up”, and “OTOH” for “on the other hand”. Sometimes, texters may use CamelCase so they may write something like “ILoveToText”. According to a 2009 Rosen report, young adults who regularly used abbreviations or adaptations in daily writing performed worse in formal writing as compared to young adults who used less abbreviations or adaptations. There are also concerns that texters may “forget” how to communicate in real life since they can “speak” to other people without using voice communication. In the real world, avid texters may feel awkward about talking to real people but it’s not something that they cannot get used to.


Texting while driving is a great distraction and it’s extremely dangerous. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute conducted an 18-month study in 2009 and the results showed that it’s texting can increase the risk of crashing by 23 times. In schools, texting has made it easier for students to cheat in exams. Text “bullying” is also a great concern because a gossip or rumor can be spread quickly and it can cause distress to the victims. There are also security concerns about texting because the network operator has access to the content. In this sense, texting may not be suitable for secure communications.

The Future

The volume of global SMS has grown every year and it’s forecasted to reach about 3,700 billion in 2012. SMS is perfect for companies that want to launch a mobile campaign because it’s reliable and affordable. Furthermore, all mobiles are enabled to receive and send text messages and the majority of the world population own mobiles. As more and more people switch to smart phones, some people observe that the use of SMS will decline. According to a recent study by CTIA in 2010, the volume of texts was still increasing but the rate of growth had slowed down. For the younger generation, SMS may be considered old-fashioned, and there are indications that the use of text messaging may decline in the future.


Content Created and Provided By Charlotte Gray



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