What did we do before there were cell phones? Before there were cell phones, you had to go to the phone. The wealthy had them in every room of the house, but you still had to walk to them. The phone was actually attached, by wires, to the wall of your house. And you had to stand there for as long as you wanted to talk. Can you imagine how primitive and barbaric the world must have been?
Before there were cell phones, if you were driving and wanted to call somebody, you had to pull over and find a phone booth. Back then phone booths were all over the place, on almost every corner. Imagine if Superman had to find a phone booth today. The phone was actually attached, by wires, to the phone booth. And you had to stand in the booth for as long as you wanted to talk. How inconvenient is that?
What? A phone booth? It was a little glass cube along the side of the road that housed a pay phone. What? A pay phone? It was a phone that had a coin slot that you put coins in to pay for your call. No, there was not a slot for your debit card, we all carried change back then. No, there was no such thing as unlimited talk, you paid for every minute of every call you made.
Before there were cell phones, we did communicate wirelessly. The portable radio transmitter/receiver was perfected in 1940 by the company that would later become Motorola. It was referred to as the “walkie-talkie”, apparently because using it allowed you to do both, possibly even at the same time, depending on your stamina. The first version was the size of a Smart car and came in its own backpack, chock full of vacuum tubes and dry cell batteries. It had a handset, just like the telephone. The handset was actually attached, by wires, to the backpack. You had to stand there by the backpack for as long as you wanted to talk. Are you seeing a pattern emerge here?
Motorola made another version, which was the size of a large paving brick, called the “handie‑talkie”, apparently because circus strongmen could hold it in one hand. For most normal people it was the “handies-talkie.” Remember, this was right after the age of smoke signals, and before the transistor age, so things were big. Really big. But hey, look, no wires!
With the advent of the transistor, the walkie-talkie did shrink in size, and in cost. It shrank in size to the point that you really could carry it in one hand. And it shrank in price to the point where shrewd marketers and advertising men, aware of the piles of discretionary spending money people kept laying around, pitched them to impressionable young boys all over the country, who would beg for a walkie-talkie for Christmas. And, for $25 U.S. dollars in 1967, which is somewhere around infinity when adjusted for inflation, you too could have your own set of walkie-talkies!
Before there were cell phones, when I was a kid, I remember watching the original Star Trek series, back in the 1960’s. All the crew members had these little widgets that folded in half, like a ladies pressed-powder compact. They would flip them open, and the widget would make a beeping sound, and then the crew would start talking on them. How cool was that?
So when we finally got cell phones, it’s not surprising that the first one, called the DynaTAC, looked an awful lot like the old handie-talkie. Like you were talking on a shoebox. After all, they were both made by Motorola. What was surprising was that the next generation of Motorola cell phones, the MicroTAC and the StarTAC, looked an awful lot like those communicators from Star Trek. Was Gene Roddenberry prescient, or was the Motorola designer responsible for the flip phone a Star Trek freak?
If I was going to make a widget, I think I’d make a widget that could monitor your social media tsunami and turn it into a slow dribble, like the slow dribble you leave running on your faucet to keep it from freezing. It would somehow read your mind and figure out what really would interest you on your social media at the exact moment you looked at your phone. How it works I have no idea. That’s up to the Daily Post people. They’re the ones that granted me this magical engineering power in the first place.