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Upwardly mobile


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I AM sure Alexander Graham Bell must be turning in his grave and that his subterranean contortions are accompanied by melodic ringing tones in the ears covering the whole acoustic decibel range thus named in his honour.

The Scottish scientist and inventor patented the telephone in 1876 but could hardly have imagined the radical technological advances which have turned his household utility into a status symbol and so much more over the past 20 years.

Can you remember the trusty old apparatus which had pride of place in the hallway, occasionally emitting the standard bell-chime now only associated with black and white movies? Once out of the house, we used to be ‘unavailable’ to friends, spouses and bothersome unsolicited sales callers.

The advent of answering machines and pagers curbed this freedom somewhat but essentially telecommunications were restricted to the home, office or clandestine visits to those evil-smelling telephone booths.

The now absurd-seeming need to have two, five or ten pence coins in one’s pocket, only to experience the frustration of having run through the cold and wet night (they all were in those days!) in order to be thwarted by a blocked or vandalised public phone, belongs to the distant past.

The mobile has well and truly taken over.

I still have two friends who have been left behind in the Stone Age, resolutely refusing to join the rest of humanity in the 21st Century but can the other 99.99 per cent of you imagine life without your high-tech ‘leash’?

Starting with that soothing wake-up melody in the morning and continuing with those quick calls during the day, advising of a late arrival or missed train, “hello mum”, or “can you pick up the kids, I’m stuck in traffic”, we have become utterly dependent on our futuristic little gadgets. And that is before we start to talk about people earning their living on the road such as estate agents and delivery drivers, the SMS-texting revolution or the increasing number of snapshots made with the mobile subsequently used during news casts and police investigations. How did the human race exist before the portable telephone?

Without a doubt, historians and anthropologists of the future will devote hours if not years of research to answering this question!

7lb beast

Back in 1987, my work entailed being saddled with one of the first cell phones launched by Panasonic the previous year. The 7lb-beast was ugly, sat on top of a huge battery, cost more than 1,000 pounds sterling and lasted a mere hour. I used to ‘park’ it on a table in the pub during the evening, where it attracted a great deal of curiosity if not admiration – “that’s a strange-looking wireless, son!”

Already two years later, the Orbitel appeared positively stunning in comparison, containing its own power source while topping the scales at a lithe two pounds. Thereafter the mobile’s development has been startling.

The Motorola Startac introduced the world to the wonders of messaging, while the 2001 Nokia 7110 WAP phone was the first to provide internet access. The Ericsson T68 featured games and polyphonic ring tones a year later and the same company’s V800 added film and music clips, video calls and clear pictures in 2004.

Most recently, the expansion of the 3G-third generation, mobile service has led to the launch of the Apple iPhone. Technology fans queued throughout the night in freezing Central London earlier this month to get their hands on the latest 380-euro must-have gadget.

Described by experts as ‘drop dead gorgeous’ and hailed as ‘revolutionary’ by Apple founder Steve Jobs, the new communication device comes with a host of features including a widescreen iPod with touch controls, camera, music and video player and wireless internet capability with email, web browser, maps and searching all in one. Oh, and you can phone people with it too.

The 21st Century has well and truly arrived.

Whereas you used to grab your keys and wallet when leaving the house, it has now become obligatory to add your mobile to those essential items, and their use and application has constantly expanding parameters.

A new range of TV-style dramas exclusively for mobile phone use are already in the post, production stage, catering for the shortened attention spans of the young, the restless and the permanently busy. One of these so-called ‘Mobisodes’, 24: Conspiracy, a spin-off from the hit show, features specially created characters in a series of one-minute episodes. And then there are the culture-changing implications affecting romance.

While texting has created as many love affairs as it has broken, new mobile video calling provides an entirely different means of dating. 3G picture technology has revolutionised the dating game, allowing potential partners to see what they are letting themselves in for, as well as checking out each others personalities.

On the other hand, the new developments also offer plenty of opportunity to indulge in mischief.

One company, for example, can supply the technology for your phone to play sanitised background noise so when you call your partner, he or she will hear only your voice and the sound of a train or conference room regardless of where you happen to be.


These frivolities apart, there are of course also vital benefits of a more worthy nature. Along with the now common stories of men and women rescued from the sea, desert or mountain peak after their location was pinpointed through their mobile signal, the Owl phone allows parents to track their offspring at all times.

With today’s phones already close to facilitating their use as credit cards, it seems that nothing is sacrosanct in our mobile future. Your choice of phone is beginning to have as much significance as where you live, while the day when owning one means that home is wherever you and your mobile are in the world, is coming ever closer.

If all this is too much, or, like my father, you only use ‘those annoying little things’ to find out when dinner will be ready or tell your spouse that they are driving too fast having just passed you at breakneck speed, you can off course just switch it off.