I was a relatively early adopter of mobile phone technology, in the grand scheme of things. At seventeen years old, I was the first member of my immediate family to get a cell phone, which was hard-mounted in my car, and operated on prepaid minutes that were VERY EXPENSIVE by today’s standards. So much so that I didn’t give my number out, and only used the thing for emergencies. Starting around that time, give or take a couple of years, I dreamed, nay fantasized, about having a device I could put in my pocket that operated like a tiny computer, and might even connect online!
Back in the early days of the internet, I don’t think I knew anyone who actually had internet service. Sure, I knew plenty of folks that had modems, and they’d dial up to other people they knew who also had modems and “send emails” or “transfer a picture” (which took forever), or whatever. But, even before my current household had internet service, I wanted that sci-fi device that would connect to the internet that was as small, if not smaller (ghasp!) than a graphing calculator.
I bought my first handheld mobile phone in 1998. Jennifer and I had just started dating, and we kind of knew we were a a permanent thing, right off the bat. She’d just gotten her cell phone, and back in those days you could more or less pick your own phone number. So, I chose a number that was the exact same as hers, save for two digits. At the time, people thought we were crazy, “what if you break up?” they’d ask, with shock in their eyes. We got married before the end of the year. Almost twenty years later, we still have the same phone numbers.
Of course, phones come and go. Some last longer than others. In about 2001 (maybe 2002), Jennifer and I upgraded our mobile phones. The new ones were flip phones with these new-fangled LCD screens. There was an extremely low-resolution screen inside the clamshell, and an even lower-resolution screen on the outside, so you could assign a picture to display upon an incoming call, according to your contact list. Honestly, if they’d make a modern equivalent, it’d be a pretty sweet setup. This phone also had a camera built into it! Granted, it was only like a .33mp camera (if that), and it only took pictures (no video), but nobody else had camera phones at the time. We would take pictures with our phones and it would confuse bystanders.
So. This morning, I was sitting on the toilet, tracking an incoming package on USPS.com on my tablet. Sweet, I have a camera lens coming in today! I think I was using the home wifi network, but it may have been on my data plan. I’m not sure, and I don’t much care. Yeah, that device that I dreamed of earlier; the little computer that fits in my pocket? Now, I carry two of them daily. Never did I dream that each of them would have two cameras that are higher resolution than the early digital cameras that I sneered at because “digital just doesn’t have the resolution of film and will never catch on.” Face palm. Don’t get me started on touch screens.
Now, my phone is getting “kind of old,” by today’s standards. It’s a Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport. The tech specs on it blow away any PC I could have put my hands on back when I started dreaming of these things, in terms of processing speed, RAM, or storage space. And, I couldn’t put anything like that in my pocket. And, it wouldn’t work under water. I think the Galaxy S8 is out now? Even though I did not, I could have written and posted this entry from the family farm, way out in the woods. It’s such an everyday device, but it’s so much what I wanted before it was a thing, and then so much more than I ever imagined!
I mentioned above that my first cellular phone was expensive to operate. And, it only made and received phone calls. Now, I don’t think twice about queuing up Pandora on my phone, or a selection from our combined CD library that we’ve been collecting since about 1993, for a long road trip. Heck, I can’t tell you the last time I actually listened to broadcast radio (SeriusXM notwithstanding). Satellite radio is entirely another rant, by the way. And, when in the world did those two merge, anyway?* Also, being able to pull up the combined knowledge of mankind, at a whim, virtually anywhere I go. Wow. And yet, more often than not, I use it to watch political (or cat) videos, or play solitaire (which you can still do with a tangible deck of cards, oh irony of ironies), or occasionally reset my watch at time.gov. Yeah, I wear a mechanical wrist watch. For a long time, people stopped wearing watches because “they carried a phone,” and then, they started wearing a ‘smart watch’ that connected to their phone, so “they didn’t have to pull out their phone to check the time.” *eyes rolling…* I skipped that whole dumb cycle and I’m still wearing a mechanical wrist watch. Okay, enough of the tangents in this paragraph; let’s wrap this puppy up.
To you youngsters out there, hear me now: your time is coming. Sooner than you think will come a time when you’re telling tales of crap that nobody remembers anymore. You’ll look at the world around you; how it’s changed, how it’s the same; and you’ll say to yourself, “there’s no way I’ve gotten that old already. I’m not that old!” To you old-timers out there, take my words with the deference that I deliver them: I’m starting to get it. Coming into ‘middle age,’ or whatever, is opening my eyes to all the weird stuff you’ve been saying my whole life about “back in mah day…” So, please keep telling me about how you had to be home when the street lights went out, or party lines (which actually suits this post better), or whatever you like, for that matter.
There’s a lot of stuff your modern smart phone will do, either natively, or through a downloadable app. I don’t need to explain anymore about why that, in and of itself, it pretty amazing. But, most of the secondary and tertiary stuff your phone can do, can be done far better with a dedicated device. That is to say that your phone has a powerful processor, a sharp screen, and lots of memory, but most of us use a dedicated computer for serious computational tasks (although even that may be changing). The cameras in these things are getting shockingly sophisticated, but they still won’t compete with my DSLR (although, I said digital photography would never catch on, and my first camera phone took grainy, low-res pics). Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that these things sprouted out of nowhere and have come a long way since, and although they’re not a perfect replacement for everything, they’re historical improvements show us that they have a long way to go still. What do you think they’ll look like in twenty years from now?
*2008, apparently. Good grief, almost ten years ago, and I didn’t notice it happen…