The Life of SMS

firoz patelOn June 30, 2015, the so-called father of SMS,  Matti Makkonen, died from an illness.  The Finnish pioneer of texting tech had always been quick to point out that he wasn’t single-handedly responsible for the technology, but he did help develop the concept of sending messages through mobile networks. While the death of this man responsible for  this new way of communicating is tragic, the effects of his life will not soon be forgotten.


On Texting

Texting, or SMS (short message service) is a method of communication that sends texts between cell phones — or from a PC or handheld to a cell phone. This form of communication was limited to 160 characters.

Although the SMS idea was cultivated by the Franco-German GSM cooperation by Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert, Makkonen was responsible for sharing this idea at a telecoms conference in Copenhagen when he was working as a civil servant. Makkonen chose not to apply for a patent absolving him of any rights to the financial boon that came from the invention.

However, he did work on the invention. In 2012, Makkonen gave a rare interview, and claimed that while he did not personally write in “txtspk”, he regarded SMS as a means for language to continue to develop.

And although SMS is a specific technology that is starting to lose contemporary relevance in some ways, it’s still imprinted in our culture through instant messaging services, Twitter and more.

In considering the the life of one of the creators of this technology, it is worth reflecting on how this technology has changed the way in which we communicate.

Character Development

Everything from Twitter, to social media profile descriptions, to instant messages have an established number of allowable characters that are often limited to 160. This is in direct reference to the SMS standard.

How We Talk Text

How we talk in text has translated into how we speak in person. Whether this is self-aware or not, texting shorthand has made its way into the lexicon. This way of speaking is reflected back to us in the media that we consume  and is making its imprint on other cultural touchstones as well.


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