Can You Hear Me Now?

Oct 17, 2008 6:13pm

Let me tell you about the day I decided civilization was finished. I was in a men’s room at an airport.  A man came in, yakking loudly on a cell phone.  He did his business, flushed, and left — and not for a second did he stop talking. It didn’t escape our notice here that it’s now 25 years since the first commercial cell phone service began.  We did a World News piece; the webcast version is HERE. Volumes have been written about how the mobile phone has changed us.  We’re all reachable, whether we like it or not.  We can talk to people with remarkable ease, but we’re also surrounded by the din of other people having private conversations in public places.  A friend of mine would laugh at the conversations that broke out around us on planes when the flight ended: "Now would you please make three copies and send two to Steve, with a cover note…."  How many calls do we now make because we can, not because we need or want to? A U.N. report says we’re close four billion wireless phones worldwide — more than half the planet’s population.  In the U.S. alone, as of June, there were 262.7 million wireless subscribers — 84 percent of all Americans. In a year, we use 2.23 trillion minutes of air time.  And, of course, it’s become a touch quaint to refer to cell phones as "phones" — since it’s hard to find one that doesn’t include a camera, browser, texting, GPS, ability to download music or video, etc.  Motorola, whose DynaTAC series was perhaps the first successful "handset" — though at two-and-a-half pounds it doesn’t seem very handy anymore — has posted its own version of the cell phone’s history HERE.  Watch the video from 1984.  It will remind you that time flies. The CTIA, the industry association (CTIA used to stand for Cellular Telephone Industries Association), lists some changes that have come along since the first commercial cell-phone service in 1983: "Plenty of Time to Chat: In the first six months of 2008 (Jan. 1 – June 30) U.S. consumers talked on average a total of 187 billion minutes each month. That is more than 6 billion minutes each day, and amounts to nearly 13 hours (766 minutes) per customer each month. "Text is the New Talk: More than 384 billion text messages were reported by carriers this year between Jan. 1 – June 30, versus 295 billion voice calls. That is 22 billion more text messages than for all of 2007. Text messaging is doubling every year. "Subscriptions Soaring: The wireless industry saw almost 20 million new subscribers in just the last 12 month period (July 2007 – June 2008). There are 2,869 times more subscribers today than in January 1985."  And by the way, to transmit all that stuff, the CTIA says that in June there were 220,472 cell towers in America. (Image of 1983 phone courtesy Motorola.)

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