What Came Before Texting?

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” 
Frank Zappa


Every generation claims bragging rights on innovative progress.  Credit for past accomplishments is duly noted, but since advancement is seen as increasing over time, the assumption gives the edge to the current age group. Nowhere is this more evident than in our sophisticated communication technology, which is readily observed in the proliferation of texting.

Texting is merely sending a message to someone else using “Short Message Service” (SMS), a term for abbreviations and slang used in texts. Abbreviations overcame the difficulty of multiple key presses, the character limitations imposed by carriers, and the high cost of service. It’s quick, efficient and global. While texting appears to be a rather recent development, we were not the only generation to use abbreviated language.

Ancient Greece used a shorthand system that was based principally on vowels, using various modifications to indicate consonants.  Cicero of Ancient Rome was fortunate in his choice of scribe.  Marcus Tullius Tiro, developed a shorthand named “Tironian notes” to record Cicero’s speeches.  On the other side of the globe, Imperial China developed an abbreviated, cursive form of Chinese characters for transcribing  court proceedings.

Fast forward a few centuries, everyone became interested in fashioning short-hand to facilitate knowledge transfer.   More recently, Pitman shorthand was the standard for clerical excellence.

Humanity thrives on progress and challenge, both of which require the conduit of language. Whether long or short, communication finds a way.

“We should strive to welcome change and challenges, because they are what help us grow. With out them we grow weak like the Eloi in comfort and security. We need to constantly be challenging ourselves in order to strengthen our character and increase our intelligence. ”
H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

22 thoughts on “What Came Before Texting?

    1. It is a new dynamic! For the next generation, a phone conversation is too slow. Texting is a language that they understand, one we have not have the need to learn (even though I text). What is fascinating to me is that the language stands alone without the nuance of body language or voice modulation. While I haven’t completed a full study, I think we are seeing the development of a universal global language which has not yet come into its own! Now that we are mobile, costs of service play an increasing role. Sending a text costs less than a phone call. Even so, there is indications that texting using SMS appears to be on the decline. There are new technologies on the horizon.



  1. And as you write your post Clanmother, a milestone change is about to occur in India (even the world) http://www.euronews.com/2013/07/12/world-s-last-telegram-service-set-to-be-silenced-in-india/ The end of the telegram service in India! And Queen Victoria would have been good with texting too, I am sure; in one of writings she says…..’shd be put in the duke’s hand wh wd equally tell….”. Captain Cook and his crew use some interesting txt like terms in their log books too. Oh, txt or SMS has a long history indeed 🙂


    1. What an interesting link! I agree, another milestone. I have been reading “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris” by David McCullough, one of my favourite writers. Samuel Morse was a painter turned inventor. When he was in Paris (where he painted) he became interested in a communication technique. This led to his contribution to the invention of a single-wire telegraph system based on European telegraph. He was also a co-inventor of the Morse code. Technology is never an easy road, but it seems that we would rather take the hard over the easy!

      Our Queen has the same forward thinking ideas as her great grand-mother. I love her Facebook page – she recently wore an elegant red hat.


      1. Ah, now I must investigate Samuel Morse. And, yes, I love the Queen’s Facebook page and her interest in communication. She’s an expert.


  2. I was fortunate to take “shorthand” while in high school. Great experience. When I was learning the Persian alphabet I found the letters of the shorthand to be so similar . Both so pretty on paper. What would we do without texting???


    1. What an interesting comparison. I just Googled “Pitman Shorthand” to see what it looked like. You’re right – it seems like cursive writing in another language. Quite elegant!


  3. Rebecca, I love your gift for connecting the “old” and the “new” and I love that I learn something every time I visit you. Communication does indeed always find a way and I am thankful to live in such a time that we are able to connect so easily. Like all things though, we must remember what a privilege it is and to use our technology wisely and not let the ease and speed at which we can reach each other eclipse the need to think before we “speak”. Blessings to you today!


    1. I agree wholeheartedly! Words are powerful and can be used for good or bad. In our perilously divided world, our communication, whether long or short form, must be seasoned with kindness and filled with insightful compassion. We have access to fast communication, but that does not mean we need to respond without thinking.

      “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
      ― Henry James


  4. I am thinking of the messengers of the Roman armies having terrific memories compared to, say, Ulysses Grant, who probably could jot down quick notes, though they probably had “code” in Antiquity too! 🙂


    1. Your comments led me on an interesting path! How did the Roman armies communicate?!! It seems that they used horns to relay commands and maintain discipline and unity. There were two types of horns – a round horns and long straight trumpet. Each cohort, which was composed of 6 centuries, had a horn-blower. Ulysses Grant used flags called wig-wag signaling.

      Isn’t it remarkable that words are only one method of communicating – the ideas of one person being sent out to others. I think of the rising interest in using photographs to convey a message. Our continued desire for connecting with others, will give strength to other venues. We live in interesting times.


    1. A very interesting point! Our intuitive side has always been discounted because we do not have the methodology to quantify the process. There has been a consider amount of anecdotal evidence, however, to suggest that we may be overlooking something very important.

      Have a great weekend. Sunshine in Vancouver!!! 🙂


  5. It is fascinating all the different short versions of words that various societies have had, but it makes me wonder – if short is good, why have the long word to start with? Language seems to get more complicated the older it gets, and then someone comes along and makes it easier by shortening it all, another decides to lengthen it again a few years later! We just can’t leave words alone, can we!?

    I was just trying to imagine those ancient Greeks with mobile phones, I wonder what material they would have chosen to make them out of! 😀


    1. I especially liked “we just can’t leave words alone, can we!” We can’t!! Greeks with mobile phones – can you imagine if they were bloggers? I’d be signing up to follow! I thought that you would like this quote from an ancient Greek on communication! 🙂

      “Wise men speak when they have something to say, fools speak because they have to say something”
      ― Aristotle


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