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Will Phones Be Invisible By 2097?

One of the cool gifts I was given this past Christmas was a thick book titled Strange But True Science. A compendium of interesting facts, it covers topics that vary from Area 51 and a bit of UFO lore to about five pages on the history of roads (Romans built a 50 000 mile highway system in their empire, with stone roads running as far afield as Spain. Who knew?) to a look at whether Vitamin C prevents colds (their verdict – no, but it might have a slightly beneficial effect in preventing heart disease.)

One thing that caught my attention was their entry on mobile phones. I always was surprised that in the 1954 movie Sabrina, one of the business mogul brothers played by William Holden and Humphrey Bogart, has a phone in his limo. Both brothers wanted to impress Sabrina, played by Audrey Hepburn. The car phone seemed far-fetched to me, yet I wondered how they would have incorporated such a thing if it didn’t exist in reality. I think I first encountered one over three decades after the movie so it was mind-boggling to think of them being around in the ’50s. Turns out, it wasn’t fantasy…but it wasn’t common by any stretch of the imagination.

The book says that as far back as 1946, Bell Labs had established a mobile telephone network in St. Louis, and soon AT&T had it available in a hundred cities across the country. But it wasn’t for everyone. For one thing, callers could only call within the same set of antennae, which is to say basically in-town, local calls only. Worse, only three frequencies were available, “limiting calls to only three users per city”! But with the phone and receiver combined weighing 80 pounds at the time and the service charge of $15 a month (close to $200 a month in today’s funds), it might have been tough to find even three buyers in some cities.

By 1967, prototype celphones were built, but they were limited by their bulk and need for the caller to stay fairly close to the “base station” when using it. Fast-forward another 26 years and an early “smart phone” was made by IBM, allowing for e-mail and even faxing from the phone, but its’ brick-like heft and short battery life meant it wasn’t quite finding its way into many back pockets.

Now? Well, we know the story. As of last year, 97% of Americans had celphones, and 85% of those were “smart phones.” Around the world, 78% of all people have a phone in their pockets…even those who probably don’t have clothes to have a pocket in. Countries as far-flung as Uganda and Azerbaijan have 100% of their land covered by cell networks (it’s estimated you can use your cell in a little over 99% of the U.S. landmass.) Facts I quickly checked by…my celphone and Google.

Now, while I love being able to make a call if I need to when I’m out, or check the latest ball scores – if there were in fact ballgames being played, but that’s a story for another blog – or the weather from a parking lot along the way, I tend to think we love our phones and rely on them a bit too much. But what it does tell me is how much the world can change quickly. In terms of human history, 75 years is a blink of the eye. But telephones were things wired into walls you had to stand still at, and quite possibly shared the line with others with. Devices which cost you an exorbitant amount of money to use to call someone in the next county with, let alone the next country. Now, handheld devices let you get in touch with most people through much of the globe on the go, comparatively cheaply. And let you check your mail or read the news while you’re on hold. It’s an amazing leap forward.

What it gives me hope about is thinking that if we can use technology to make “space age” “sci-fi” phones a reality in 75 years, imagine what other problems we can solve by the 22nd century, if not sooner. Climate change? Our need for fossil fuel energy depleting our resources and despoiling our land and oceans? Toxic chemicals needed to combat pests, many of them invasive? New airborne diseases emerging from Third World markets and threatening humankind ? Hey, we got this! If we can make an 80-pound phone that only called others within about a five miles radius fit in our pocket and instantly call someone on a different continent, these problems too should be solvable. All it takes it enough bright minds and some imagination. And perhaps a latter-day Audrey Hepburn to impress.

6 Replies to “Will Phones Be Invisible By 2097?”

  1. It depends on if they…whoever the people who create are…care about the important things or a way to make a buck… I would not rule out the latter.
    Phones are a blessing and a curse. I wonder how many people actually use their phones to talk anymore? People are obsessed with them…and I’m in that bunch because of my job mostly. I tend to read more on my laptop but yea…I do it also on the phone.

    I have seen phones that you wear like a ring on your finger…no pun in there. I can’t imagine what it will be like in 75 years…in some ways, I would want to know…in others I don’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yep, they’re a bit of a curse in today’s society. I was pretty early in on celphones in earlyish 90s but used it pretty much only for safety if out driving and the car stalled, or if I was somewhere remote and needed to place a call. I was pulled kicking and screaming into the smart phone age about 3 years back. Now I use it more than I really want (when I’m on WordPress for instance, I tend to have the phone beside me and use it to quick check facts rather than keep opening new tabs on the computer) and now I use it most of time if I’m going to amazon – phone site seems to work better than on the computer for me – but I still prefer using the computer to it. And I would rather read a paper book or magazine than the same content on a screen… I had a Kindle like e-reader and ended up selling it on e-bay because I basically never used it.
      Most scientific advances are probably motivated by cash, but as long as they get done and improve things, then good. Not all our advances do advance our society though, so I try to be optimistic about the rest of the century but it is hard not to look at it a bit negatively since our problems as a planet seem to be outpacing our ways to solve them.

      Like

  2. It is interesting and I agree people especially young people are attached to them in an unhealthy way. The jury is out on the harmful effects of the radiation burrowing into your head if you’re on a call, or into your hands if you’re texting. I try to use speaker phone whenever possible and not touch the phone at all. I just had to upgrade to a 5g phone because my old lame phone was going to be obsolete. All of those “waves” in the air makes noise pollution, much of it undetectable by the human ear. It disrupts birds and other creatures who migrate. Yet, even with that knowledge, onward I text, call, and surf…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Like I commented to Max, I do use mine more than I’d really like, but still a whole lot less than most people I know these days who can’t eat two bites of a dinner without checking the phone between chews.
      Very interesting point of the cel phone radio waves. I too speculated that, actually was published in a nature magazine asking just that – could celphone waves be harming bird (and bat) populations? A lot of species have plummeted in population over the past 40 years, and some – especially field birds like Meadowlarks, Bobolinks, some blackbirds – have declined for no known reason even where their habitat is still appropriate. Since they are not showing up where habitat is good, one has to wonder why and to me, celphones and all those towers transmitting are about the only real noteworthy change to take place. The reply I got was there was no evidence of that, however the editors did admit that when it was a mystery, it was wise to not rule out anything as a cause, including that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. likely some truth to that… I mean some people will but getting funding needed to do it well would be difficult, as would getting negative results printed or reported in mainstream media.

        Liked by 1 person

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