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Preparing for your digital life in the 21st Century
Preparing for your digital life in the 21st Century

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The rise of texting

Unintended uses sometimes develop alongside the intended uses of emerging technologies in our information society. A classic example is the text messaging facility on mobile phones, often referred to as SMS (which stands for short message service). This was originally a minor feature designed to be used by engineers testing equipment – it was not expected to be used by phone owners at all. Yet by 2006, mobile phone companies were earning more than 80 billion US dollars per year worldwide from SMS messages, making them one of the most profitable parts of their business (International Telecommunication Union, 2006).

SMS resulted in a whole new method of communication and form of popular culture, different ways of interacting with radio and television, and even a new language form: texting. Texting often plays a key role in arranging demonstrations against those in power. You will probably remember such events from recent news stories.

Some more figures might help to put the increase in texting into context. The Mobile Data Association gathers statistics on mobile phone usage in the UK. Their report for May 2008 (, 2008) shows that in the whole of that month:

  • 16.5 million people accessed the internet from their mobile phones
  • 6.5 billion SMS (text) messages were sent
  • both of these figures showed a considerable increase from previous years.

In December 2008, the equivalent figures were 17.4 million and 7.7 billion respectively. In the following activity you will calculate just how large the increase in text messaging between May and December was.

‘Billion’ is a word that in the past had different meanings in the UK and the USA. However, the two countries now agree that a billion is one thousand million (1000 000 000).

Activity 3 (self-assessment)

The number of text messages sent per month in the UK grew from 6.5 billion in May 2008 to 7.7 billion in December 2008. What was the percentage growth over those seven months? You will probably need to use a calculator for this activity.


The increase in the number of messages was: 7.7 billion − 6.5 billion = 1.2 billion.

The percentage growth is found by dividing the change (1.2 billion) by the starting number (6.5 billion) and multiplying the answer by 100%. This gives: growth = 1.2/6.5 × 100% = 18.5% in seven months.