Cell Phone Nation, Cultural Observation

By Kara Marziali

It seems we can’t go anywhere without seeing throngs of people—young and old—using cell phones. This cultural spectacle is undoubtedly continuing to rise, and in 2014, the number of active cell phones will reach 7.3 billion. In other words, there will be more in-use cell phones

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than there are people on the planet right now.

The first mobile phone was used in 1973. In 1983, the cell phone was commercially available, and cost a whopping $3,500. (Keep in mind that a decent car cost only $5,000 in the early-80s.)  By the year 1990, cell phones had become all the envy. Technology made them more affordable; however they were not quite portable. Remember Zack Morris had a giant one on Saved By the Bell? (There are even a website and Facebook page dedicated to television’s most famous cell phone.) Cell phones officially became mainstream (meaning more than 50% of consumers were using one) by 2003.

They have become so commonplace in America that it is hard to imagine life without a mobile connection. Recent studies show that 56% of American adults have a smartphone and 91% have a cellphone, but what exactly did we NextGen-ers do before the dawn of cellies?

When I wasn’t sporting a Swatch, practicing the moonwalk, or playing Pac-Man, I did the following things sans a mobile phone:

  • I always had loose change in my pocket. As far back as I can remember, my mother used to give me a stash of dimes (later quarters) “in case of an emergency.”  Before people had phones in their pockets, we had phones on street corners, and that was the only way to reach someone when we were on the go.
  • I made plans ahead of time, and I kept the commitment. If we agreed to meet in the lobby at noon, we did. If one of us was running late, the other person simply waited…and wondered.
  •  I had to remember numbers—lots of them! Family, dozens of friends, the local pizza parlor, my dance studio.
  • I kept an appointment book/calendars with me at all times. (How else was I supposed to remember I was meeting you in the lobby at noon?
  •  I took pictures with a camera and waited until I used the entire roll of film before getting the photos developed. (And then I threw away most of them because they were blurry.)
  • I left a paper trail. Whether it was passing notes in school, scribbles on a whiteboard in my college dorm, or notes I left around the house letting my mom know I was just down the street hanging out at a friend’s, I put it in writing. (My jottings are still savvier than my texting.)
  • I talked. Face-to-face. If I wanted to network socially, I needed to do it in person.
  • I practiced ESP. Since I didn’t have caller ID, when the phone rang, I merely had to guess who it was!  It could have been the principal, my nana, a neighbor, Dad’s boss, or my best friend.
  • I kept my multi-tasking at a minimum. Although my landline princess phone had a cord that stretched for miles, when I was on the phone, I did little else except talk.

Consequently, life seemed simpler back then. (The fact that I am writing this blog post with a laptop computer is just another example of how rapidly the world is changing.) I’m no mobile maven but I do love technology. From our phones, we can surf the Internet, make a purchase, text a friend, snap a photo, schedule an appointment, or ‘Google’ a plethora of trivial information. I don’t know what other options my phone will offer in the near future, but I do know I still want to use the phone the old-fashioned way—to make connections or just to say hello.

So, call me!

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