Can Six Billion People Be Wrong?: 40 Years of the Mobile Phone Generation

Mobile Phone Evolution A

So I find myself in the Carphone Warehouse on Sauchiehall Street, where the employees are all kitted out in navy fleece and the shop is possibly the smallest on the pedestrian strip, making slightly redundant the warehouse bit. I don’t know why it is that when in town with a bit of time to kill I end up in mobile phone shops. There’s a McKenzie clad ned fingering the Galaxy S III off its perch. ‘Check this wan…this is the dug’s bollocks.’ His sidekick grabs it from him, testing the phone for weight in the palm of his hand. ‘Aye, but that newer wan oot at the end of the month is bigger than yer Maw’s Kindle.’

The sales girl catches my eye from behind her counter, though I’ve done everything to avoid just that. I reckon she thinks am a serious candidate for a potential sale. I want to tell her in eyelid blink code she’d be better off watching the McKenzie twins and pay me no mind. I feel rubbish and would look downright rude if I just walked out, so I amble over to the Pay As You Go’s. I’ve not done top ups since 2002, and have got to thinking it’s only the bankrupt and folk having affairs who have the necessity for them nowadays. I might be one pay day away from one and dumb enough to do the other, but I definitely wouldn’t do either with a Pay As You Go in tow.

We’ve come a long way in our relationships with our mobile phones. 40 years in fact – though most of us a little less longer. Last week saw the anniversary of the first mobile phone call by Motorola inventor man, Marty Cooper. He’s modern history’s Alexander Graham Bell of sorts, yet was neither a household name in 1973 nor now, poor guy. He and his engineering team lit the torch paper which has culminated in currently six billion worldwide mobile phone subscriptions.

Marty Cooper Pic A

Clam shells, flip tops, sliders…over the years, we’ve had them all. And they’ve all ended up at the back of the man drawer traded in for the next indispensable upgrade. My first mobile was a Nokia 5110 circa 1997. As common as a Model T Ford in its day, I dropped it in the first week, and surprisingly for a compact brick, it more bounced than flounced. I remember hours of playing Snake under the bed covers at night time and til this day can hear the phone’s message alert tone in my head. I even considered one of those faux leather hip pouches to attach one to…and then I remembered I wasn’t a middle aged builder with bulging belly and a set of keys clipped to the other hip.

One Message Received A Nokia 5110 ANokia Snake A

Years before, my brother had brought home from work what might be deemed the first kind of mobile phone contraption on the mainstream verge, à la Del Boy Trotter. It was always on charge while my brother was on call. I mind no one ever being really that impressed with the off-white hunk of chunk that seemed bigger than a child’s head, nor with the aerial that could do serious damage to the lining of your nostril if you copped an unfortunate one.

Del Boy Mobile ATalking of the potential for danger, we all remember that frantically publicised phase sometime in the Noughties when we were warned of mobile phone radiation penetrating our brains. Yet do we know anyone who actually stopped using one on that basis? Six billion people can’t be wrong, even if we are all slightly head-frazzled.

These days it’s so much about more than the phone itself. In the late 1990’s there was only so much a phone could do…call, save 10 texts at a time, perpetuate an addiction to Snake, while all the time emit annoying ringtones. That was about the measure of it. Now it’s what a phone can’t do which will leave it trailing behind its competitors. My phone has got me around the streets of Barcelona with no wrong turns thanks to the wonders of GPS. It’s aided me in changing a flat tyre in the pouring rain of a winter’s night with its flashlight akin to the shine of a lighthouse beam. I can source tomorrow’s weather as I listen to my favourite tunes while picking my teeth as I flick between Spotify and the mirror app, (granted I do look like am peering into the back of a soup spoon so round is my face in the reflection…but still).

Phone envy is a curious thing, and something that the manufacturers rely on. Though, perhaps it’s only the newest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy release that can garner that kind of ‘must have, need one, gotta have one’ syndrome. The thing is, when people put their phones on the table, in recent years they appear much of a muchness, none so outstanding from the other, (except of course if it’s adorned with some diamond encrusted jajazzle…or is nearly the size of yer Maw’s Kindle). I didn’t think much of the iPhone 3GS when it was released, but I suckered myself into buying one. That model seems pretty old hat already, close up there on the shelf with Mark II Blackberrys…and Betamaxes. But while Apple has moved on, so have I, vowing never to go down that road again.

Apps Heaps A

Apps, apps, apps. That’s where the big business is now. What do we want from an app? Mostly, we don’t know until we see one half the time, next thing duping ourselves into coughing up the £1.99 for it. That’s some kind of powerful marketing right there. An app that makes your face look fat. An app that can make a real life fart or vuvuzela sound. An app that x-rays your bones. A fake call app to get you out of a bad date. The more inventively shallow might vie for an app that when pointed in a single’s bar reports the status, baggage, salary and previous convictions of a potential. Or for the eternally tardy an app that puts everyone else’s clock back ten minutes. The potential for apps is a tad more endless than for the innovation and design of handsets themselves. Let the hardware design boys and girls do their thing, but keeping app’s new and fresh to fill a handset seems to be where it’s really at. Apps are having their day, but in a year or two, their novelty will be displaced by the newest software. In no time we’ll be flicking pages on our phones with our eyes and no fingers will be required in telepathically calling our dearests to tell them to put the oven on as we’ll be home in ten. Our phones will be on our wrists and if scanned down someone’s frontal you’ll be as good as giving them a health check. Mobile phone’s making us our own doctor? Don’t count it out.

But don’t forget in a few years when you remember the phone that was nearly the size of your Maw’s Kindle, it’ll be time to take it out the drawer and place it in a glass cabinet of reminisces. It’ll sure look good sitting next to the iPad…and the Betamax.

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