Dec. 3, 2012 at 2:59 PM ET
We're all thumbs today, as text messaging turns 20. Thumbs up, as texting has become a great way to reach people without calling; thumbs down to those who text message and drive.
An engineer sent the first text message on Dec. 3, 1992 from a computer using a standard called SMS (Short Message Service) to a mobile device using Vodafone's network in the U.K. The message: "Merry Christmas."
The first commercial texting services started in 1993, but didn't become popular until 1994, writes writes John White of Portio Research, based in the U.K. After that, text messaging's growth was exponential. By 1999 — a zillion years ago in mobile and Internet time — 100 billion text messages were sent worldwide. By 2005, 1 trillion text messages were sent.
In 2012, worldwide SMS traffic "passed 8.5 trillion messages in one year," he writes.
In the U.S., some think text messaging may have peaked. Chetan Sharma, a technology and strategy consulting firm, recently said that for the first time, there was a drop in both the "total number of messages as well as the total messaging revenue" in the third quarter of this year.
Asked for specifics, the firm told NBC News that text messaging dropped from an average of 696 messages per user per month in the second quarter to 678 in the third quarter.
"It might be early to say if the decline has begun or the market segment will sputter along before the decline takes place," the firm said in its report on the "US Mobile Data Market Update Q3 2012."
The reason for a drop could be that more of us are using other ways of sending short messages, be it via Facebook, Twitter and other social media, Chetan Sharma said. Also, users of Apple's popular iPhone can use iMessage to send free text messages to other iOS users.
CTIA, the wireless trade industry group, in the U.S., says its own findings are contrary to Chetan Sharma's: that the number of text messages sent and received increased 3 percent to 2.273 trillion from July 2011-June 2012 from July 2010-June 2011.
A new study about texting from Experian Marketing Services, based on 1,485 U.S. adult (we do emphasize adult, as teens were not included) smartphone owners, says, not surprisingly, that "young adults text more than any age other age group."
How much texting? During a "typical month ... smartphone-owners ages 18-to-24 send 2,022 mobile text messages and receive another 1,831 for a combined total of 3,852 texts sent and received. With every age bracket we move up, the number of mobile texts drops by roughly 40 percent."
The wee hours are also busy hours for texting: Experian's smartphone panel data shows that during every hour between 8 a.m. and midnight, more than half of young smartphone owners are both sending and receiving mobile text messages," and 37 percent in that age group say they receive text messages at 4 a.m.
Despite the increase of texting alternatives, such as Facebook and Twitter, there are 6 billion cellphone subscriptions worldwide, and text messaging remains king on this, its 20th birthday.
There were more than 8.5 trillion messages sent so far this year, notes White of Portio Research, but with "9 trillion per year forecast for the next few years, we estimate the next 40 trillion will be carried before SMS turns 25."