I can’t remember when I sent my first text, but it would not have been even close to 20 years ago.
Back in 1992 – when the first text was sent – there were plenty of things on my mind, but not texting, which was a concept of which I knew nothing. Ditto mobile phones, which were for men in red braces, not the likes of unimportant mothers like me.
My only phone thought, back then, was whether a telephone should still be displayed in the living room on a glass table – you know, as in: “There is nothing we don’t have – look here there is even a phone,” or kept in the hallway, as in: “This old thing? It means so little to me I don’t care where I keep it.” Being a thoroughly modern woman, I opted for the hallway – even though it meant we could never hear it ring.
So in terms of general communication, it was the phone or the letter for me, but mostly the list, since that it is the simple mechanism that keeps working mothers on the treadmill of life.
To be truthful, the only letter I remember writing about that time was to my boss, requesting a pay rise. Imagine! A handwritten letter asking for more money. I had such a lot to learn.
But, since I was too scared to ask in person and did not possess a computer, a letter on my best Basildon Bond it was. You may be wondering about the outcome: it was the usual. I was thanked for my “note” and told times were hard which, actually, they weren’t in 1992 – that’s bosses for you.
But texts are now being celebrated to mark the twentieth anniversary of their invention and, although I didn’t join in until a good five years after that, I can honestly say now that texts are among my favourite things.
The days before them were interesting in their quaint way, but letter writing was always such a faff, and phone calls always have to contain so many pleasantries before you say the one thing you actually want to say. Texts are now our most popular means of communication because they get round all that. They are useful, they are practical, but there is more – a text has a whiff of danger about it, doesn’t it?
Just cast your mind back to the last time you sent a really nasty text in the middle of a row, making clear your opinion in a concise, no-nonsense kind of a way and knowing that the other person really had no choice but to receive and understand exactly what you mean. Wasn’t it gloriously satisfying?
Obviously you will have regretted this text later on. Or maybe that should be texts. Because it is possible, isn’t it, to become so pleased with your pithy summing up of your case, so satisfied with the strength of your stance...that you just keep going.
Somewhere in your head, you know you will pay. But, like chewing your way slurpily through an entire box of chocolates, or sucking and crunching your way through an entire packet of custard creams, the joy of the moment seems entirely worth any amount of later pain.
Texts have their downside: they’re not tactile. You can’t climb into your loft, root through old carrier bags, and discover poignant fragments of old texts.
Because they didn’t exist when I was a teenager, I can still hold in my hand odd mementos of the past, like the unsigned postcard sent in 1974 which says: “it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. See you at the top of Outgang on Wednesday at 7.30pm”. Who? What? Why? I will never know. But the pleasure is all in the mystery.
On the other hand, texts can be written anytime, anywhere, unlike a letter which requires pen, paper and, for preference, a seat.
So there are texts which illustrate the heat and anguish of the moment like nothing else in history. Imagine if they had existed during our two world wars, or at times of freakish disaster like Pompeii? What would those people have said?
We know the thoughts of some people in extremis. There are texts from a Norwegian teenager to her mother, sent while the teenager was trapped on an island by a gunman who went on to kill 69 people. There are texts to their loved ones from those trapped in the World Trade Centre in New York, many of them a final message of love.
Texts lack a certain something, it is true. They lack fluency, style and a clever turn of phrase.
But then, who apart from the leisured classes ever had time for all the flowery stuff?
Texts are blunt, to the point, in the moment and they are communication for our modern age.
Txts r us.