Texts and Tech at Reading Year of Culture 2016

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How do you usually communicate?

Through Twitter? Whatsapp? Snapchat? Today there are so many ways to send messages to other people, but if we go back just 24 years ago, there wasn’t even a single text message.

It’s bonkers to think just how far technology has come in a really, really short space of time. And very exciting to imagine where it will go next.

All this mind-blowing technology pondering came about last night at Grow @ Green Park where Neil Papworth was giving a talk for Reading Year of Culture. Who is Neil Papworth, I hear you ask? He’s only the bloomin’ guy who sent the first EVER text message. I know!

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Neil is originally from Reading/Bracknell, which is very cool, and he was invited to talk about how he came to be the one to press that send button and change the way we communicate forever.

Neil was working as developer and test engineer for a company called Sema Group Telecoms in 1992, helping to develop a short message system for their client Vodafone. I think he said there were a team of about 28 working on it for a year, which is a lot of man hours. At first it looked as if it would be used just for business communication, with secretaries messaging CEOs their meeting times etc… Can you even imagine!

So there Neil was, a young graduate, enjoying overtime pay and pizza, who was called into an office to do the first official test. It was 3 December, and Neil explained how unlike most tests, which were done without much attention, this time he was surrounded by men in suits, all waiting with baited breath.

He tapped in the message – Merry Christmas – and pressed send. And then to Neil’s relief (his biggest worry was that he might lose his job if it didn’t work!), it arrived at the Vodafone Christmas party.

And there and then an entire new way of communication was born. It really is incredible to think about, and it was fascinating to hear Neil talk about the early days. He also had with him two early Nokia handsets (I think one was a 3310 – oh Snake, you wonderful game!), and even just thinking how things have progressed from a really basic screen to complicated contraptions which can connect to the internet and take videos, is mind-blowing.

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On the evening, we also had a chance to see some 3D printers in action, which was really cool, and to see some of the things which have been made with them at Grow, including hats and button holes for Ascot, which were amazing.

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Grow is a really inspiring environment. It’s described as a collaboration, incubation and co-working hub, where people can work on projects or their own businesses, while meeting like-minded people. With other people to bounce ideas around, and awesome events like Neil’s talk, who knows what new technologies will be created there in the future!

For more Reading Year of Culture events visit www.reading2016.org.uk

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