Digital Life
Nokyoung Xayasane
December 05, 2012

Texting Turns 20: Divorce Via Text and Other Wacky Texting Trivia

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OMG, texting turned 20 on Monday. Isn’t it gr8?

Over the past two decades, texting (otherwise known as Short Messaging Service or “SMS”) has become one of our society’s primary modes of communication. These days, the only times I actually pick up the phone and talk to someone is if I’m making a dentist appointment or chatting with my mom.

On other occasions, it’s kinda weird to just phone someone up and ask if they’ve seen Skyfall or to gush about their vacation photos. You might “like” it on Instagram or Facebook or “favorite” it on Twitter, but you’re unlikely to engage in a voice-to-voice convo (the horror!).

Since our good friend texting is celebrating its double decade birthday, we thought we’d share some of the texting trivia that made us chuckle, gasp or pensively stroke our (figurative) beards.

I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you *send*

In Malaysia, it’s actually legal to divorce via text. We thought dumping your boyfriend or girlfriend through text was heinous enough, but this has got to take the cake. Tajikistan has now banned divorcing through texting. But before all that, it was just a matter of repeating the words “I divorce you” three times and boom — singlehood. It’s equivalent to Dorothy’s “There’s no place like home,” except the end result is a ruined marriage instead of a cozy Kansas chateau.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night

The first ever text to fly through the sky (we have no idea how texting works, but we assume it has something to do with binary code soaring through the sky) was “Happy Christmas.” The holiday wish was sent by 22-year-old engineer Neil Papworth to Vodafone executive Richard Jarvis on December 3, 1992. Jarvis received the festive message through this dinosaur of a phone: the Orbitel 901.

This isn’t your grandmother’s phone. Actually, it might’ve been. (Via

The 160-word limit is thanks to the typewriter

Texting was an invention of its time, and since that time was the ’80s, space was pretty limited. In order to conserve precious bandwidth, a texting committee decided to go with a 160-word limit per text after being inspired by a typewriter.


“They were trying to figure out how to … use the least amount of data and space on the system as possible,” reports NPR’s Stephen Henn. “So, [Friedhelm Hillebrand, a member of the committee] sat down at a typewriter and banged out sentences and started counting up the number of characters in the sentence. And he just decided that 160 characters was enough to write a sentence or ask a question. And we’ve been living with that limit ever since.”

The inventor of SMS was inspired at a pizzeria

Matti Makkonen, the Finnish engineer who invented SMS, had the “light bulb moment” at a pizzeria. It must have been the sweet aroma of fresh tomatoes and basil that did it.

Actually, Makkonen was attending a cell phone conference in Copenhagen when the idea struck him. He must’ve been taking a lunch break at the nearest pizzeria. Unfortunately, Makkonen didn’t patent the idea for texting, so he hasn’t seen any profit from his invention.

Happy Birthday, SMS. You don’t look a day over 19.