Communication has gone a long way since Alexander Graham Bell created the telephone. Modern society communicates in ways that was not thought possible a few decades ago. This is because the present generation is equipped with better technological features which make communication much easier. One of the significant advances in the realm of communication is presence of mobile phones. In turn, mobile phones have provided yet another communication breakthrough known as the short message service, or better known as the SMS.
This research paper aims to discuss the history as well as the advantages and disadvantages of this mechanism. In addition, this paper will also delve into the cultural and social implications of the use of the SMS, arguing that the benefits outweigh the repercussions of the use of this service. Short message service (SMS) is defined as the “globally accepted wireless service that enables the transmission of alphanumeric messages between mobile subscribers and external systems such as electronic mail, paging, and voice-mail systems” (International Engineering Consortium (IEC).
It is simply a “mechanism of delivery of short messages over the mobile networks” (Gupta). SMS operates on a “store and forward” with regards to the transfer of a message from one mobile to another (Gupta; IEC). The process which involves the SMS begins with a message that originates from a mobile; this message would then be kept in a “short message center” before the original message can proceed to the supposed receiving mobile (Gupta). In the instance that the receiving party is unavailable, the message can be temporarily stored to be sent at a later time.
The characters which compose the message consist of either alphanumeric text or “binary Non-Text Short messages” (Gupta). Mobile service actually started as early as the late 70s (Goggin). It was on December 1978 when the first ever mobile service was activated in Chicago. Other countries soon followed: Sweden (1981), United Kingdom (January 1985) and Australia (mid-1980s). However, it was in the year 1991 when the SMS first emerged in the wireless industry in Europe (IEC). What is now recognized as Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) was the pioneer who set the benchmark in the wireless industry.
They were also responsible for including SMS features from the beginning. In North America, SMS was featured by companies such as Nextel, PrimeCo and BellSouth Mobility (IEC). The first text message was actually sent in 1993 by Riku Pihkonen, an engineering student of Nokia (Goggin). During that time, the telecom companies did not really see the potential of this technological advancement. The design of the mobile phones was originally not conducive for SMS applications. For instance, the size of the keypads was too small while the characters to be used were few (Goggin).
The “typeface displays” were also undeveloped, and there was initially no notification when a message has been received (Goggin). However, improvements have been made as short message service has become one of most reliable and popular ways of communication today. Short messaging service has numerous advantages. It has become the choice mode of communication for the majority; the benefits of its usage are grounded on “convenience, flexibility, and seamless integration of messaging services and data access” (IEC). To begin with, SMS gives the people the guarantee that the messages will be received.
As opposed to other services like “alphanumeric paging,” SMS has the assurance that the messages will be delivered to their respective destinations (IEC). This is because the system is supported by mechanisms which are linked to multiple senders and receivers. The service is made available through “national and international roaming,” making message sending throughout the world possible (Gupta). Even if the network is experiencing technical problems, the message will still be sent to its destination. It will simply be stored in the short message center until the network properly functions again. (IEC).
Another distinct feature of the service which exhibits its convenience factor is the capability of its handset (IEC). Pagers only have the capacity to receive messages; it is unable to send messages. However, through SMS, one can “receive or submit a short message anytime” (IEC). The first features of SMS were targeted at the obsolescence of pagers. SMS was created to allow “two-way general-purpose messaging notification services” (IEC). As time went on, SMS also accommodated other services such as email and fax (IEC). Moreover, SMS makes communication more efficient by giving more control to the sender.
For example, SMS allows the recipient to screen his or her messages; this gives the individual the power to only read the messages that is of relevance to him or her (IEC). In the same way, the person also has control to only return the crucial phone calls. Also, if a person wishes to send the same message to different people at the same time, it is also possible using SMS (Goggin; IEC). To those mobile phone users who avail prepaid cards, checking the remaining balance can also be done via SMS (Gupta). This way, not only does it save time, but it also allows the person to be more productive through multi-tasking using the mobile phone (IEC).
Short message service is also beneficial as it functions to enable the handset to work like a computer (IEC). Through SMS, anyone can engage in online banking, information retrieval and other Internet-related endeavors. Again, it proves the convenience of such service as it removes the dilemma of having different gadgets to communicate. With SMS, the mobile phone is the only thing needed to accomplish multiple tasks (IEC). One of those tasks which can be accomplished via SMS is the sending of the electronic mail or e-mail (Gupta; IEC).
Before, e-mails could only be sent with the computer. Because of SMS, it is possible for anyone to send emails as long as the messages to be conveyed are short enough (Gupta). SMS, like e-mail, is “asynchronous” (Goggin). The response is as quick as the reception of the message. Nonetheless, the recipient can reply at whenever time is more convenient for them (Goggin). Other Internet-related activities, such as the establishment of user groups, can also be done through SMS (IEC). Another task that one can perform through short message service is information retrieval.
Those who need vital information immediately can conveniently get it through their mobile phones (IEC). The service also allows various kinds of information to be retrieved. These information can be transmitted to the receiver through alerts and notification. For instance, if a person wants to receive the latest news on current events or entertainment, all this person has to do is send a keyword to a certain SMS number to avail of the said information (Gupta). Short message service is not limited to deriving information; it can also be used as a source of information.
Another function of the SMS is as a means of voting (Goggin). Certain television shows operate on the viewers’ sentiments, which are translated into text votes. That is why television networks have utilized SMS as a method of deriving audience feedback, among other things. Reality shows such as Big Brother and talent contests such as American Idol use SMS voting as part of their programming (Goggin). Mobility and savings are also two factors that continue to make short message service a popular communicative medium. First, this service is a quick but inexpensive way to convey messages.
If one needs to tell another a message, all this person needs to do is use SMS. Compared to calling a person for the same purpose, SMS is more inexpensive because it also saves time (Goggin; Gupta). As for mobility, short message service lets people communicate regardless of their location (Goggin). All places which allow the use of mobile phones is an ideal venue for communication, whether it be in public transportation or in private venues. The ways of communication through SMS is also very easy. In writing, one uses the thumb and another finger. In typing in a computer, two to ten fingers are needed.
However, the thumb is only thing needed in sending an SMS through the mobile phone (Goggin). Indeed, short message service is very useful and convenient. However, this service also has limitations and disadvantages. First, SMS only enables one to send simple messages (Gupta). Short message service cannot include graphics or sound. Second, message size is a problem. A message can only contain no more than 160 characters, that is if the alphabet used is Latin. If other alphabets are used, only 70 characters can be accommodated in a single message (Gupta). Other disadvantages deal with social interaction, which will be discussed later.
Short message service may seem like a purely technical issue, but this also has cultural and social implications. Such technological advancement surely has the power to influence culture and affect how society interacts. The cultural implications of short message service are focused on two things: the creation of a new young subculture and the contribution of SMS in the deaf community. When SMS was first used, the act of sending messages became a subcultural endeavor (Goggin). This is most evident with the youth, who have shaped the cultural landscape through the creation of a new form of language.
SMS involves messages which are “compressed and cryptic” (Goggin). This allowed the youth to devise a language all their own, that which only they could understand. In the process, they succeed in creating their own culture. As a result, they have established a culture apart from the culture known by adults (Goggin). Short message service also contributed to the Deaf community by providing them an effective and efficient means to communicate. The Deaf community has long been isolated in the world of communication, as their disability has not been accommodated by existing technology (Goggin).
However, SMS gave these people the opportunity to interact with each other despite their disability. Ever since the launch of SMS, those who suffer from impaired hearing have been frequent users, creating a new cultural milieu in the process. The use of SMS also has social implications. Some of these implications are negative, but most of them are positive. For instance, social communication through SMS has completely eliminated physical boundaries (Bodine, Fung ; Moraveji 3). Communication is not hindered by location; a single message is all it takes to connect two people from different places.
Time is also no longer an issue. People can communicate with each other while engaged in other activities; communication becomes “on-the-go” (Bodine, Fung ; Moraveji 2). Meeting with other people is also made easier by SMS. Schedules and locations are easier to coordinate using this service (Bodine, Fung ; Moraveji 2). Short message service also has a social advantage in times of emergencies. In a way, SMS provides security through the betterment of the quality of life (Bodine, Fung ; Moraveji 7). Those who are lost, such as the elder community, could ask for assistance with a single message.
Short message service has brought about a social revolution (Bodine, Fung ; Moraveji 8). By making communication easier, cooperation between people is created. Through the mere act of sending of messages, SMS revolutionized the way society communicates (Reid ; Reid 1). As a result, a social revolution had occurred. Indeed, a social revolution had begun. More than ever, the development and maintenance of modern society’s relationships has been dependent on short message service. In a study conducted by Reid and Reid in 2004, two groups of people were distinguished: the “Talkers” and “Texters” (Reid and Reid 3).
The former refers to a group of people who prefer calling; the latter identifies the group who prefer SMS. According to the survey, it was found that sending text messages was seen as a crucial way in keeping relationships (Reid and Reid 2). After all, it is a simple way of communicating. The exchange of text messages is similar to a normal discourse. It was also found that SMS was influential not only in relations with friends and family, but in one’s entire social life (Reid and Reid 5). Through SMS, a person can create a distinct group of people which is called “text circles” (Reid and Reid 1).
It refers to a solid group of friends which compose one’s social environment. Lastly, it is through SMS were people can reveal their true selves, promoting self-expression (Reid and Reid 1). However, there are also disadvantages in the use of SMS. First, because the blurring of the boundary lines, the spaces are no longer defined. There is a conflict between one’s physical and virtual space (Bodine, Fung ; Moraveji 4). For instance, SMS enables a driver to communicate via SMS while on the road. Not only are the physical and virtual realms blurred, but the situation presents a dangerous possibility of an accident.
Second, the dependency of people in SMS to truly express themselves and communicate can hinder their personal skills. The dilemma will bring about one’s incapacity for face-to-face social interaction, as people are used to hiding behind technology. Indeed, short message service have made communication easier. Now, interaction between people is as easy as sending messages back and forth. While SMS presents various advantages, it also has its fair share of disadvantages. However, thorough consideration will show that the benefits outweigh the problems that come with.