Consider this anomaly: Ecuador, with a per capita GDP of $4,300, has the United States beat when it comes to a critical wireless technology. Americans may be 10 times as wealthy, but Ecuadorians send four times as many text messages.

Text messaging - or SMS, as it's more commonly known overseas - is evolving beyond simple communication into a delivery mechanism for content and a mobile interface to the wired world. But if you want to get a taste for this revolution, you'll have to head abroad.

The opportunities start with understanding economic and cultural factors that drive usage. Pay-as-you-go cell-phone plans offered abroad encourage text-message use, as does the fact that in most countries, fewer people own PCs on which to send instant messages and e-mail.

But that doesn't fully explain why users in Ecuador and the Philippines send north of 200 SMS messages a month and the Danes and Irish average 100 a month, while Americans manage to tap out fewer than 50.

Why the difference? In part, it's simply a matter of critical mass, with people adopting SMS because their friends are using it. Look at how fast AIM took off in the 1990s, or MySpace during the past year. When texting gets big in the United States, it will become a mass phenomenon before we know what's hit us.

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