A year ago this week, Britney Spears sent the text message heard round the world.
Her text to then-husband Kevin Federline succinctly let him know that he would soon go from K-Fed to Fed-Ex, and set off months of bitter custody battles, drunken jaunts and the unexpected apotheosis of Federline from punch line to father of the year.
But the message, received by Federline on his Sidekick in the midst of conducting a filmed interview, exemplified a wholly other social phenomenon. The text-message breakup, long the domain of caddish frat boys and drunken twenty somethings, had suddenly become a marriage buster -- a way to leave not just your regular booty call but your full-fledged spouse.
Within four short months of Spears' message, no less serious a grown-up than the prime minister of Finland thumbed his thumbs at his girlfriend and banished her from his sauna forever … from the safe distance of his Nokia.
"That's it," Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen reportedly texted to his longtime partner Susan Kuronen.
"When Britney Spears dumped Kevin Federline I thought doing it by text message was an abomination, that it was insensitive and without reason," said Kristina Grish, author of "The Joy of Text: Mating, Dating, and Techno-Relating." "But it has now come to the point where our cell phones and BlackBerries are an extension of ourselves and our personality. It's not unusual that people are breaking up this way so much."
Text messaging has become so ingrained that we even communicate our most romantic desires. The British, who, according to a recent poll of 2,000 adults by the trade publication Cellular News, send 235 million amorous text messages a month at a cost of $460 million, even have a word for flirtatious texting -- "flexting."
"There's always a lot of texting at the beginning of a relationship," said Victoria, 25, a law student from Brooklyn, N.Y., who sends 700 messages a month.
"It's great because when you want something it is so to the point, but when you don't know what you want you can be vague or subtle," she said.
Victoria was less than subtle when breaking up with a man she had been casually dating for three months. After the man stood her up once and then insisted she come to his place rather than meet her at her home, Victoria pressed "send" on their relationship.
"It's OK," she texted. "I didn't want to see you anyway. You're short and I'm dating someone hotter and taller."
His response: "Fine, have a nice life."
The phenomenon is not limited to cell phones. In a recent Associated Press/AOL poll on computer instant messaging, a medium not unlike text messaging, 43 percent of teenagers said they IM about things they wouldn't say in person. Twenty-two percent use IMs to ask people out on dates or accept them, and 13 percent use them to break up.
According to Grish, teenagers aren't the only ones using new media to douse old flames.
"Older people are texting more, but not with that same rapid speed or back and forth bantering. People under 38 definitely text faster and use more abbreviations and codes. But as BlackBerrys become more common for business communication, older people are using them to communicate in their social lives as well," she said.