What I learnt from the first mobile phone…

Posted: May 19, 2009 in technology and the future

I went to watch the Star Wars movie with my step dad this weekend.  Even though the movie opened a week ago, he thought it would be wise to show up 45 minutes early so we could get some decent seats.  He already had the tickets bought at least.  We walked into the theatre, and it was full… all except the first 3 rows.  So much for being there early.   So, we had a neck cramping view of the movie.  What does Star Wars have to do with the first mobile phone?  None that I know of.

Having 45 minutes to burn before the movie started afforded us a lot of chat time.  In the first few minutes of this time, we were mildly entertained by my iPhone.  The iPhone spurred an anecdote from my step father about the first time he encountered a mobile phone.

Back in about 1990 (or maybe 1992?) he was a real estate agent.  One of the top salesmen in his company.  One day, one of his clients came by.  I’m not sure who this client was, but he was one of those types that always is the first to have the latest gadget.  The dialogue went something like this:

Client: Have you ever heard of a mobile phone?

Stepdad: Yes I have, but I can’t say that I’ve ever seen one before.

Client lifts a briefcase onto Stepdad’s desk and opens it up.  Inside is a phone attached to a gigantic battery.

Client:  This is a mobile phone

Stepdad looks impressed.

Client:  I have to head out of town for a few days, do you want to borrow it and test it out?

Stepdad: Are you serious??

Client: Absolutely!  Here’s how you use it.  You just call the mobile operator, tell her the number you would like to be connected to and she’ll patch you through

Stepdad:  Alrigh, sure!

Stepdad takes the mobile phone out with him on the road and begins to call clients from it. (Stepdad turns to me and says ‘have you ever experience the old TransAtlantic calls?… no, probably not, you’re too young.  Anyway, calling people from this mobile phone was kind of like that.  You sounded far away and cut out a lot.  But it was pretty cool at the time.’)

A few days later, client comes back to the real estate office.

Client: So, how’d you enjoy using the mobile phone?

Stepdad: It was pretty cool!

Client: Would you believe me if I said in 5 years a phone like this will fit in the palm of your hand?

Stepdad:  No way!

And five years later, we had mobile phones that fit in the palms of our hands.  Do you know how often I have been astonished by technology?  More often than I can even remember.  It continues to surprise me.  I am taken aback by how quickly technology changes things.  Except that this story teaches me I shouldn’t be.  Because it’s always been like that.  And it will always be like that… it’s just picking up speed.

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