I was amused by the following comment in a Treehugger report on using SMS: "The SMS (short message service) is an institution in Scandinavia[…] You can even file your taxes in Sweden by SMS." Well, you can do the same in Norway, too. I know. I did it that way for the first time last year.
It is true that the use of SMS ("smess" as the youngsters say) is ubiquitous in Scandinavia. Norway has one of the highest numbers of cell phones per capita in the world. That's one reason for all the texting. Another reason is that an SMS is less intrusive - and cheaper - than a phone call. Telephoning has always been prohibitively expensive in Norway, so the much cheaper SMS (less than NOK 1.00 per message for basic texting) as a way of giving a quick message really caught on in the early days of the cell phone. For many, including myself, it is one deciding factor for adding a cell phone to the household. Using SMS can even be more reliable: In areas where you may have only one bar for a phone signal, you'll still have plenty of signal for an SMS.
The Treehugger article reminded me of how many services are offered via SMS now: When I signed up for my free newspaper subscription, I was asked for my cell phone number. Just before my subscription started I got an SMS from the paper, giving me instructions for where to send an SMS if my newspaper is late. This past week I transferred money from one bank account to another by sending my bank one SMS. If I order something online, the post office will send me a delivery pick-up message via SMS when my package arrives, if I so wish. Several online food columns will SMS a recipe with shopping list to you.
And in 2006, when we were on strike? Those who wanted could get status updates via SMS from the union and strike leaders. I tried it and liked being able to stay informed no matter where I was.
I stay in touch with friends via SMS. I love texting because I'm more of a writing person than a phoning person. SMS-es are also cheaper to use when using the cell phone abroad. Cell phone subscriptions are set up so that if someone phones you from Norway while you're abroad, you pay the extra cost of the international phone call. I had an entire "conversation" with one good friend who was laid up in an Austrian hospital after a skiing accident.
I'm (obviously) not the only one whose thumb dances across tiny keys on an ever-shrinking portable phone. On New Year's Eve the circuits are clogged not with phone calls, but SMS-es flying back and forth wishing everyone a happy new year. This last Eve the telephone companies were prepared and there was only a three-hour delay in delivery; the year before they were caught off-guard and some SMS-es weren't delivered until well into the afternoon on January 1.
The gang at work discovered yet another use for SMS when one co-worker crashed his car driving home from Oslo. As luck would have it, he was uninjured and had crashed right outside a town that was a stop for the train to Bergen. When he got to the train station, he found a schedule posted and noted he had only a 20-minute wait for the next train. Nice. Oh, footnote. "Stops only on request." Darn. Printed at the bottom was a toll free number to call. So he called. What he really wanted was for someone to tell the train he was there. He was told that the trains slow down passing such stations, so they can spot passengers wanting to board.
My co-worker didn't feel like taking chances, so the woman on the other end of the line offered to sell him a ticket. That would also send a message to the train that there was a passenger waiting. All she needed was a credit card number and his cell phone number. He gave her the information, and after he hung up, he received an SMS with a confirmation and the number of a reserved seat.
The train glided to a gentle stop in front of him and he got on and found his seat. He never saw a conductor.
Me? I'll probably be filing my taxes this year via SMS. Again.