Cell Phones: An Evolution of Understanding & Technology

Reference & Education

  • Author Robert Hempel
  • Published July 15, 2021
  • Word count 1,766

A few years ago, while attending a college English class, one of my assignments was to write a paper on one of three topics, Cell Phones, Personal Growth, and honestly, I forgot what the other topic was. (It obviously was not an attention grabber). So, after thinking about it for a while, I decided to write my paper about cell phones and their evolution. So, here is the paper I wrote. Please, sit back, fasten your seatbelts, and enjoy the ride!

Have you ever wondered why cell phones are everywhere? Seemingly in every home, owned by nearly every person. I mean, what is the big fascination with cell phones? Why are they so popular across all age groups? Well, I think I may have the answer. Follow along with me and let us explore the last 40 or so years of cell phone evolution from my perspective. This should prove to be entertaining at the least in not informative.

I grew up in the 1970’s. It was a time when technology was nearly non-existent, (at least from my point of view for that time-period). I am sure that compared to early Americana, the technology of the 1970’s was extremely advanced, almost alien if you will. (There will be more talk of “Aliens” shortly). First, let me tell you a little about me. I come from a “Working Class” family. My parents were both blue-collar working-class people and we did not have much in the way of fancy possessions, and what we did have, we cherished. You see, back then, if you had fancy gadgets like home computers, a VCR player/recorder, more than one television, etc.… then your family was considered “Financially Well-Off”. That was definitely not my family. You may be asking yourself, “Where is he going with this?” and here is your answer, when cell phones first emerged, they were extremely expensive. Most likely because the technology was so new and still in development. Because of that, they were not readily affordable by the general public.

When I was a kid, there was no such thing as a Sony Play Station, or a Nintendo Wii, or X-Box of any version. My family had an Atari 2600, and in the 70’s, that was the bomb!!! My favorite games were Pac Man, Dig Dug, and Centipede, (those were EVERYBODIES favorite games). That was just about the fanciest thing we had in our house. What we did not have, were cell phones. We did have a home phone though. You know, one of those old bulky, rotary dial phones. There really are not a lot of people still around that know what those things were, let alone what they look like. That’s crazy, isn’t it? Those things are as alien now as Star Trek was in the 70’s. See? I promised to talk more about aliens so, here it comes…

I mentioned ‘alien’ and ‘Star Trek’ in the same sentence on purpose. For those readers out there who may not know what Star Trek is, I am truly sorry that you missed out on such an awesomely inspiring weekly television program. Star Trek was only one of the most fantastic science fiction television series in history, and it just happened to be one of my favorite shows to watch. Star Trek was about a Federation Space Crew aboard the Starship Enterprise. Their mission was to “Boldly go where no man has gone before”. They were to seek out new intelligent alien life forms and technology.

What you may or may not know, is that Captain James Tiberius Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise are responsible for a large majority of the technology that you and I, and everyone else, enjoys today. Have you ever wondered about the invention of say… Microwave Ovens? GPS? MRI machines in hospitals? And, most importantly… BEHOLD… the Cell Phone!!!!! I remember watching Captain Kirk take out his ‘flip open communicator device’ and say, “Beam me up Scotty”. Well let me tell you a secret. That little flip open communicator was the “birth” of the flip open cell phone. It gave members of the crew the ability to talk to each other from different parts of the planet, and even from the planet surface to the spaceship. Our cell phones of today are not quite able to call into space yet, but I am sure that feature is on the horizon. Anyways, here is some interesting information. Nextel Communications, before it was bought out by Sprint, had patented a technology that was remarkably similar, (if not identical), to Captain Kirk’s communicator. It was called “Direct Connect”. It allowed for instantaneous ‘walkie talkie’ type communication from one Nextel cellular device to another, anywhere in the world, as long as it had a signal to do so. Now that was cool. I remember when I was a kid, my friends and I would connect two tin cans together with fishing line and pretend they were walkie talkies. It seemed to work very rudimentarily but we were limited to the length of the fishing line, and the longer the line, the less it worked. One year for Christmas I got real walkie talkies. They worked significantly better than the cans and fishing line, but they were never able to connect to other people around the world. (At least not outside of our imaginations). That capability is what made Nextel’s direct connect feature so cool and desirable.

I believe I was maybe 14 or 15 the first time I heard of a cell phone. It was called a “mobile” and it was just that. It was mounted in a car, and it resembled an exceptionally large brick. I remember living with my sister in Arkansas, and the local radio station, KISR 93.3, had a contest. They had hidden a 24 karat, golden egg in a large local park and whoever found it would win a beautiful white Toyota Supra with a car phone mounted in it. On the day of the contest, we spent all day at that park, and we never found that elusive treasure. Somebody did though, and they got a cool car and a mobile phone. That may have been the point at which I began to notice that more and more people were gaining access to the affordability of cell phones.

Sometime later, maybe five or six years, I found myself in the United States Marine Corps, SEMPER-FI. I was married, had a baby, and was about to get on an airplane headed for Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield/Storm. We had just a few minutes to make phone calls to our loved ones and say our final goodbyes. Cell phones were more prevalent then, but they were still quite expensive and younger people still could not readily afford them. Especially a young Marine like myself with a family to provide for and bills that had more priority than paying for a cell phone. So, I had to wait in line to use the landline, (that is what we called corded phones back then), like everyone else. Because there were so many Marines waiting to call their families, the line was extremely long, and we were only given 5 minutes each on the phone. That is nearly unheard of in this day and age. I remember thinking that I hoped my wife was still awake because it was quite late.

Okay, fast forward approximately 12 years. I was 35 years old and had just taken an early retirement from the U.S. Military. My first ‘civilian’ job after the military was as a collection’s representative for none other than Nextel Communications. As an employee perk, I was given a cell phone with free service, (yes, I said free service), for as long as I worked there. Now how cool was that? My first cell phone was a little flip phone that greatly resembled Captain Kirk’s communicator device. All I needed was the uniform of an Enterprise crew member and I would be all set. It did not take long for me to realize what I had been missing out on. I soon discovered just how handy those little handheld communicator devices, (cell phones), really were.

I was reminded of my earlier years in the military and how I used to carry a day planner with me everywhere I went. It held important things such as calendar appointment schedules, names, addresses, and phone numbers of acquaintances, family members, and other important people. It also had a space for photographs and other pertinent items I would possibly need throughout the day. I remember feeling like I was carrying my “Trapper Keeper” to class back when I was in school. Oftentimes, I would think, “Damn, there has to be an easier way!!!” As it happens, there was an easier way. A MUCH easier way. It was called a Cell Phone, and now I had one too. (Cue the Angel voices in the background). I learned just how handy dandy cell phones were and I was excited!!! They are little hand-held devices that have the capability of digitally storing almost everything I carried in my day planner. And wait for it, Games!!!! These things have games!!! (Second round of Angel voices if you please). I discovered that cell phones have video games built into them. Now, if you guessed that the very first video game I ever played on a cell phone was Pac Man, you are correct and you deserve a cookie!!! Kudos to you!!!

Over the years, cell phones have evolved from being simple communication devices to very elaborate pieces of technology. They are no longer super expensive bricks that can be used as weapons. As they have evolved, that have become affordable for everybody. Not just for the phone, but for the usage as well. Usage/data packages can be tailor made to fit anybody’s budget. Cell phones are now basically very-small handheld computers that are capable of performing extremely difficult tasks with just a few taps on the touch screen, (Man, we have come such a long way). Unlike their large and bulky predecessors, they are small, (depending on the phone), and actually very affordable. So much so that almost everybody on the planet has one. I look back on the last 40 or so years and I finally get it. I understand why cell phones are so popular, even across all age groups. However, I would like to take just a moment here and speak for the older generation, my generation, and say, from the bottom of my heart…… “Thank You Star Trek”

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