Beyond Obama's V.P. pick: Six other great uses for text messaging

Or, why can't I pay for my parking meter from my mobile like the Estonians do?

Published August 22, 2008 10:44AM (EDT)

This afternoon I was cooking lunch (one of the benefits to working at home), and I was listening to Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune being interviewed on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" about how she's waiting for Barack Obama's V.P. announcement via text message.

I'm glad that Americans born before the Carter administration are just now discovering text messaging, and how it's "revolutionizing" politics and whatever. While she was on, a political consultant from Kentucky called up and was saying how "everyone" in the industry is saying to themselves why didn't they think of that? I really don't know. Why didn't you? Guys, this is 2008. Text messaging (or SMSing, if you prefer) has been around SINCE DECEMBER 1992! That's like, almost four elections ago!

If the over 30 set thinks that texting a V.P. pick is neat, allow me to indulge you with some other useful ways that text messaging is used around the world and here at home.

1) Estonia (the world's least-known techy nation): In this tiny country of 1.3 million people, you can pay your parking meter via text message, as you can link your phone with your bank account. Oh, and they've had this available since 2001!

2) Philippines: Since 2004, Filipinos have been able to use text messages to send remittances. As the International Herald Tribune reported at the time: "The remittance partner then sends a text message to the recipient in the Philippines, informing him or her of the transfer. The transfer will automatically be reflected in the Smart Money electronic wallet account embedded in the recipient's Smart mobile account. Each of the 16 million Smart subscribers in the country is entitled to a Smart Money account."

3) Kenya: More recently, a new program called Kazi560 is helping Kenyans find jobs. (Unemployment there is 40 percent!) The idea is that blue-collar workers can use their mobile phones to find and respond to job offers by text message.

If you're in the U.S., here's a few useful SMS services that you can take advantage of:

1) Google via SMS (this one's my favorite): If you text GOOGL (46645) with simple queries, you can get answers on loads of neat stuff. Like "Place Pigalle SF,CA" returns back with "Place Pigalle 520 Hayes St. San Francisco, CA 94102 415-552-2671." Or texting "1 eur in usd" returns the message "1 Euro = 1.48900 US dollars." Alternatively, settle bar bets by asking Google to define words for you, like "define:abscond" (abscond: to go away secretly or hide in order to avoid legal proceedings, as to jump bail). Or try it with weather ("weather 94618"), sports scores ("Dodgers score") or unit conversions ("1 lb. in kg").

2) Traffic information: If you text 87232 (TRAFC) with a code like SFO (for the Bay Area), or NY (for the Big Apple), you'll get quick traffic information regarding the highways in your area courtesy

3) If you're a Zipcar member, says the company: "You can get alerts, or text messages, reminding you about the details of your upcoming reservation. And while you're out in your Zipcar, we can also text you to let you know if someone's waiting for the car, or if you can extend your reservation."

Feel free to text me a thank you note.

By Cyrus Farivar

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