Had he known he was ushering in a global phenomenon, perhaps Neil Papworth of Montreal would have made his first words more momentous. Mr. Papworth was a 22-year-old engineer on the job one December day when he was assigned to do something novel: Send a text message. And so Mr. Papworth, then an employee at a software company in England, typed out the words that would launch a trillion thumbs. He wrote, 'Merry Christmas.'
Still, Mr. Papworth's deed 20 years ago this month brought about an unheralded revolution of its own. In the two decades since then, text messaging has brought down U.S. legislators, spawned political intrigue, and been used to set up trysts and to vote for TV contestants.