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Happy 20th birthday to the text message

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Hillary's famous texts (Credit: Reuters/Texts from Hillary)

OMG! Texting is 20!

What's now the communications standard for the teen and tween set got its start 20 years ago today, in the little town of Newbury, Berkshire.

While America was learning who won "The Contest" on Seinfeld and watching Jay Leno take over The Tonight Show, a British researcher by the name of Neil Papworth was busy changing the world using a new technique called "Short Messaging Service" to send a message to a friend.

That message, BTW?

"Merry Christmas."

Seven years later, the service started to go wide. Today, roughly 8 trillion messages fly through the airwaves each year — and 15 million are send every minute of the day. The average adult between the ages of 18 and 25 sends 133 messages per week.

That's a pretty impressive total for a service that originally was meant to be used as an easy way for Vodafone to communicate internally. Since phones didn't have keyboards at the time, Papworth sent his message from a PC to a cellular user.

"I was just doing my job," he told The Guardian. "It's been quite amazing to watch SMS grow from a simple way for secretaries to page their managers to all these innovative applications that rely on text messaging — voting on reality shows, tracking vehicles or packages and telling you when a plane has landed."

Papworth may have sent the first text, but it was a Finnish engineer named Matti Makkonen who seemingly dreamed up the technology (while sitting at a pizza joint, no less).

Makkonen, though, tends to avoid the spotlight, telling the BBC "I did not consider SMS as personal achievement but as result of joint effort to collect ideas and write the specifications of the services based on them." Interestingly, he never earned a penny from the invention, since he didn't think he had made something that was patentable.

Texting, of course, has its detractors, who argue that the abbreviations that go along with it have had a negative effect on literacy. But new research shows that it's actually NP.

A 10-year study from Coventry University found children who text frequently actually have better literacy skills than those who don't use mobile phones.

"For children, it's a bit like being raised bilingual," says psychologist Clare Wood, who led the study. "They get that it's about place and genre."

Or, as Papworth himself texted to the Guardian: "IMHO, SMS is still the GR8ST :-)"

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