As choppy and terse as cell-phone texting is, it is still correspondence. And since we value and save other text correspondence — such as letters and email — it seems natural that we might want to save text messages too. The problem is that saving text messages off a cell phone is not quite easy or convenient.
Cell – or mobile – phones could be loosely divided into two types: “basic” and “smart.” Both types store text, contacts and other information either on a drive or a detachable SIM card. If you want to save text/SMS messages, you have to transfer them off the phone and onto whatever storage medium you put your personal digital stuff.
Saving text messages is more difficult for basic phones. You have to open the phone, remove its SIM card and display the card’s contents through a SIM card reader. A reader is an inexpensive device into which you pop the SIM card, plug the reader into the USB port on your computer, display the SIM card contents and copy the text messages over. The “Text” — or TXT — format of the text messages is one of the least complex of all the computer file formats, so you can display the contents of a text message file with a basic text editor. You can even display it through a browser; text files get along well with several different programs.
Smart phones give you more control over text messages. You can either transfer the files over a cell-phone cable into a computer or transfer the files wirelessly via Bluetooth. You can find special software to access, view and manipulate the files. I have a nice $1.99 app for my smartphone that displays the text messages from my phone and gives me the option to save them all off the phone as a single file (with a choice from a few different formats) on my computer.
The app displays the contents of the SMS file organized into four categories: ADDRESS, the screen name of the person with whom I am exchanging texts; DIR, the direction the text in the conversation is going, whether it is coming in to me or going out to the ADDRESS; DATE, the date and time the text was sent; and TEXT, the body of the text itself.
Some cell phone text message software will enable you to recover texts you thought were deleted from your cell phone. This is possible because when you delete a text message, the text message doesn’t actually get erased. Though the phone tells you that the text is deleted, in reality the phone keeps the text for awhile in a ghost-like state and makes the space that the text inhabits vacant and available to new text.
If new text comes along and it needs the space that your so-called “deleted” text inhabits, the new text will overwrite the old text (which is still squatting in the “available” space). If new text comes along and finds a space to park and doesn’t need the “deleted” message’s available space, the deleted message will continue to exist, out of sight, until something eventually comes along, overwrites the deleted text and takes over its space.
Which means that some deleted text may still be recoverable. There is a big market for text recovery and text recovery software, especially for snooping. That is why, if you search online for cell phone text message recovery software, you will see many listings for commercial data-recovery products whose target audience is law enforcement, security, private investigation and other legal work.
If you are considering approaching your cell phone service provider to request a copy of your cell phone messages, expect to encounter legal obstacles; your provider will not just turn over your text message files to you, no matter how much ID you provide. There are strict laws governing access to your phone files, including the 2006 Consumer Telephone Records Protection Act, and the laws vary in complexity and severity from state to state. You can ask your local law enforcement agency for advice but ultimately you will probably need a court order to get the files.
It’s better, going forward, to plan for archiving your text messages. If you want to preserve them, get in the habit of not deleting your text messages from your phone, especially if a particular conversation is precious to you. And back them up frequently.
It would be ideal if, every time I connect my cell phone to the computer to recharge it, software checks my cell phone for text messages that are new since I last plugged in, then automatically transfers the new files to my computer and archives them. Even better, it would be nice if the software simultaneously uploaded a copy to a cloud backup service. But until affordable, easy-to-use autosave software comes along, save your texts every time you recharge your phone.
Smart phone users, look into the appropriate text-message-saving apps or software for your phone. Those of you that have simple phones, look into SIM card readers but be sure before you make a purchase that this method works for your particular phone. You might want to ask for a demonstration in the electronics store, using the SIM card from your phone.
As a temporary solution, you can always email text messages to yourself and save them, one by one, on your computer. That method can quickly get tedious though. Ideally, technology should take care of text-message archiving in the background without bothering you to perform petty tasks.