April 9, 2013
Happy Belated Birthday, Cell Phone!
Here’s a fun little story:
In 1973, Motorola was working to create the first real-live, portable cell phone, and they were not alone. AT&T’s Bell Labs was also trying to get this technology working. Apparently both companies had a hunch that cell phones would one day be big tech.
Martin Cooper, Motorola’s Vice President at the time, knew that AT&T was working on their own cellphone. When his company finally had a working prototype in their hands in the disastrously ugly DynaTAC phone, Cooper stepped onto a New York City sidewalk and made a phone call that would change the world forever.
“I’m calling you from a cellular phone, a real cellular phone, a handheld, portable, real cellular phone,” said Cooper as he spoke with AT&T’s Joel Engell, the head of Bell Labs.
Cooper retold this story to CNN as they celebrated the birthday of the first call placed on a cell phone and, thereby, the very first cell phone. That phone call was placed over 40 years ago now, and cell phones continue to grow in popularity.
As for Engell’s reaction?
“I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was really quiet for a while,” said Cooper in his interview.
Probably a poor connection.
“My assumption was that he was grinding his teeth. He was very polite and ended the call. When asked about it, he says he has no recollection of this moment.”
The DynaTAC didn’t make it to market for another ten years and more closely resembled a giant plastic brick as opposed to what we now know as a cell phone.
In fact, anyone over 30 years old probably has distinct memories of the way cell phones once looked.
Like all technology, cell phones have come a long way in terms of functionality and looks and, for a 40 year-old technology, cell phones are looking pretty good.
They began, of course, as those giant handhelds made famous by Saved by the Bell and Wall Street. Car phones were a thing for a while, too, complete with antenna and a receiver that could physically be hung up with an actual switch.
If you can believe it, young people, these phones had a dial tone and began using minutes if they fell out of the cradle.
In the last 40 years, we’ve seen cell phones get smaller, styluses fall out of style and back in again, and antennas fall completely by the wayside.
There was once something quite satisfying about shoving the antenna back into the phone when a conversation was complete, no?
We’re still complaining about a lack of bars, of course, and still look at these phones quizzically whenever they don’t work correctly.
Yet, we’ve also become quite dependent on them, and it’s no longer a sign of status to own a cell phone, it’s the type of cellphone you own which lends you some street cred.
So, here’s to you, The Cellphone. You’ve made it through the 80s, experimented a little in the 90s, came into your own in the early to mid aughts, and have become a trusted companion without which none of us would have any idea what to do with ourselves.
I guess what I’m saying, Cellphone, is that we don’t just like you…we need you.
Please never leave us.
Image Credit: Rico Shen