The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 4, 2013

Lordy, Lordy, the cellphone turns 40

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — They used to be novelties, devices owned only by the wealthy and the uber-cool.

They were the size of bricks, or they were carried around in bags. And they were used for only one thing.

Cellphones have come a long way in the last four decades.

Forty years ago this week, the first cellphone call was made on a Motorola phone that was 10 inches long and weighed 2.5 pounds. In contrast, today’s phones weigh in at between four and six ounces. In those days, cellphones were used for only one thing: calling and actually talking to another living human being.

Not so today. Cellphones are used primarily for texting or web surfing, much less so for talking. Whereas mobile phones used to be playthings for the well-heeled, today they are necessities. Most people would rather leave their homes completely naked than to be without their cellphones.

The United Nations says there are six billion cellphone subscribers in the world. In contrast, only 4.5 billion people have access to working toilets. That means probably 2 billion people have dropped their cellphones in the toilet at one time or another.

The cellphone has changed our way of life, and not only because cellphone TV commercials are now more numerous than those for cars, beer or erectile dysfunction medications. It used to be that if you were away from your home or office and needed to make a phone call, you found a handy-dandy phone booth, plugged a few coins into the pay phone and made your call.

The American Public Communications Council says there are only some 425,000 pay phones in the United States today, down from a peak of 2.2 million.

Today’s mobile devices are so much more than mere phones. When was the last time you looked up a number in a phone book, for example?

For that matter, when was the last time you had to remember a phone number? You don’t have to, your phone stores all your numbers for you.

You can wile away the hours playing games on your phone, or posting to Facebook, sending out Tweets or checking out your favorite websites.

Texting has become the new talking. The average American between 18 and 29 sends and receives nearly 88 text messages per day, according to CNN. According to a Pew study, Americans sent and received some 188 billion text messages in 2010.

It makes one wonder if future generations will be born stoop-shouldered because people today spend so many waking hours bent over, intent on LOL-ing or playing “Angry Birds” all the livelong day.

Cellphones have become so ubiquitous, they are becoming a public safety hazard. Thus far in 2013, there have been more than 330,000 crashes involving drivers talking on cellphones and texting, according to the National Safety Council.

Just this week, an Alabama man was caught driving with his knees while texting with both hands while a 3-year-old rode in the back seat.

And the danger doesn’t always come behind the wheel.

More than 1,100 people were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2012 for injuries they suffered while walking and using a cellphone.

There are videos online of people walking off subway platforms or into public fountains, while their attention was focused on their cellphones. Perhaps you’ve seen some of them, on your cellphone, as you were walking down the street. And that’s not to mention the fear your cellphone will poison you with radiation.

Smartphones have become so much more than mere communications devices. Many people no longer wear wristwatches because they tell time with their smartphones.

You can pay bills with your smartphone, use your smartphone as your airline boarding pass or as proof of insurance if you are stopped by the police. You can use your smartphone to find your way from here to there. You can keep an eye on your house with your smartphone, turn your lights off with it or make sure your doors are locked. Future cellphones will undoubtedly be lighter, sleeker, smarter and faster, with brighter screens. Don’t look for them to be any cheaper, however.

One of the best things about cellphones also are their biggest detriment — they enable us to be connected, and accessible, at all times. There is something to be said about being able to be out of touch from time to time.

I have a cellphone, though it is anything but smart. It’s a flip phone, which keeps me from butt-dialing friend and stranger alike. I can play games on it, can take photos with it, can text, surf the web, send and receive email. I don’t, of course. I use mine strictly to make, and take, phone calls. Trying to do anything more with my phone gives me a headache. Or maybe that’s the radiation.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at