Twenty years ago today I was a 17 year old high school senior in a tiny town in Wyoming. My friends and I talked to each other on phones--the kind with cords. Our conversations were brief--mostly just long enough to make arrangements to get together so we could talk face to face. And if we had something to say to each other that we didn't want all the other ears in our house to hear and we couldn't talk in person, we'd sometimes leave notes at each other's houses. And my longtime childhood friends I had recently left on the opposite side of the country? We sent real letters. Like, with stamps and envelopes. Quaint, I know. I didn't own a computer, and e-mail wasn't something available to the general public. The communication options available in 1992 were not ideal for shy, awkward kids who moved a lot. Like me.
Also twenty years ago today, somewhere in England thousands of miles away from that hick town in Wyoming, Neil Papworth unknowingly changed my future life for the better. He was testing this new technology called SMS messaging, and he sent the very first text message ever. It said, "Merry Christmas."
I was late to the texting party, but once I got started, I became an overachiever. I am valedictorian of texting. They estimate that 200,000 texts are sent per minute. I'm probably personally responsible for a third of them. I wasn't exaggerating when I said Mr. Papworth's achievement changed my future life for the better. Texting is a godsend for people like me. Because even though I'm 37 rather than 17, I'm still shy and awkward, I still hate talking on the phone, and I still move a lot.
E-mail will always be my first love. It's the main reason I was able to maintain any friendships at all when I've moved in the past. But then I started dating Facebook and e-mail mostly became a fond memory, like that old boyfriend you still think about years later. But then I met texting and we've been having a hot and heavy affair for a few years now. I'm still seeing Facebook, but texting and I are going steady. We're going to prom. I'm wearing texting's class ring. (Don't tell, but sometimes I text and Facebook at the same time. And sometimes I'm thinking about e-mail while I do it.)
Texting has allowed me to build relationships with people that I probably wouldn't have otherwise. Normal people can make those connections through phone calls. If you've read even one post here, you clearly know that I am not normal. So today I celebrate the anniversary of texting, and I honor Neil Papworth and the others who created the technology that allowed him to text "Merry Christmas" 20 years ago. What they gave me was more than the ability to send words through my phone. They gave me human connection within my comfort zone. They gave me friends I cherish. They've all but eliminated the miles that separate me from those I care about. Merry Christmas indeed.