Tuesday, April 27, 2010

4G and more

The first mobile phones were unleashed on the world in 1973 by the Motorola Corporation. That first baby was a 2 kilo monster and a far cry from the cute little devices we slip into our pockets today. They were utilitarian, grey, shaped like a brick and there were certainly no cutesy skins or jewels with which to "bling them up". Japan was the first country to launch the first commercially automated cellular network in 1979. Several countries in Europe followed suit two years later, with Canada, Mexico and the bringing up the rear in 1982. The US got their first network in 1983. These were analog systems, kind of clunky with not so great voice reproduction and the sound of white noise ever present in the background; the digital system or 2G networks didn't happen until the early '90's.

So, it's been 37 years since Martin Cooper and his team brought the world that one thing that we seem unable to do without. There are several generations of young adults who don't know what it's like not to have a mobile phone, or who even know what a "land line" is, far less for a telex or telegram! They know nothing about having to "place" an overseas call by calling the overseas operator and booking a time etc. And yet, we somehow survived in the pre-mobile days. Man didn't expire and the species did not die out just because we couldn't speak to someone from the car, movies etc.

What did we do before we had mobile phones? Well we didn't feel we had to relate the sordid details of our night out to all and sundry on the public bus/train etc. We had face to face conversations with people and then we went our way. Has all this immediate ability to connect really improved our ability to communicate? Like everything there are pros and cons. I don't knock mobile phones being the possessor of not one, but two of the darned things. One belongs to my office and the other is mine. I am well trained to respond to the blinking red light signaling a text message, email or BBM. It's been the best and worst of times and we, the phones and I, have a love/hate relationship.

"You didn't answer your phone" has become a more frequent complaint. Well, because I don't think you should have access to me all the time. Leave a message and I'll call you back. Okay, mobile phones are great in an emergency but we seem to spend more quality time with the damn phone than we do people. Maybe because it's easier to communicate when we have an impersonal third party to channel our discussions through. But getting back to the point, I'm driving, hands on the wheel and attention to the road please. I'm not immune, I use the hands-free but really, did I HAVE to tell you about the dress I just bought? Couldn't it wait until I got home? I'm doing something, that's why I didn't answer the phone, that okay with you?

One Saturday I went out to do my errands and forgot the phone home charging. I didn't realise it until it dawned on me that the car had been pretty quiet for a long time; no phone ringing. Determined to stick it out, I went about my business but all the while feeling, naked, as though I were somehow incomplete because I was not tethered by the leash known as Blackberry. In an age where everything is now, things take on equal importance, there is no sense of balance, of understanding the difference between real priorities and things that can wait. That chat with your child as opposed to the twenty things that come up because it's all important.

As we move into the era of better, faster communications I have to wonder, if we had one of those apocalyptic calamities often portrayed in doomsday movies, how the current generation would survive without their steady diet of X-box, Wii, Netflix and the ability to text. Horror of horrors, they might actually be expected to WRITE something down...learn to spell and even worse, wait until they saw someone to actually speak to them.

1 comment:

Gabriela said...

I remember when we had to place an international call by calling an operator and then waiting for hours. Maybe you'd like to read this:
And I remember the fascination of a boy I once overheard, back in the good old 80s: "Magnum has a phone in his car!!!"
When I now see Magnum using that phone, well... even Maxwell Smart's shoephone looks smaller.