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The first text message was sent 21 years ago.

And what did that fateful text, sent on December 3, 1992, say? A simple, seasonally appropriate “Merry Christmas.” Neil Papworth, a Newbury, England–based software developer, dispatched that maiden message to a client at a holiday party across town. It wasn’t a typical mobile-to-mobile moment, though: Papworth typed his greeting at a PC, and the phone on the receiving end wasn’t even sophisticated enough to send a response. At the time, the event’s historic weight didn’t fully register with Papworth. “I was just proud to be part of the team that spent a year working hard to develop the system,” he says. “It wasn’t until after the 10th anniversary that it dawned on me how significant that day was.” That’s right, a textbook case of delayed gratification.

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