In the last 40 years, technology has progressed in ways no one could have imagined. The cell phone is conceivably one of the most optimal inventions known to man. Continuously integrated with technological advancements, the cell phone has had a major influence on the lives of people from numerous lifestyles. Even in the last few years, there have been changes to the hand-held device that have unlocked a myriad of windows to events happening all around the world. Cell phones have become an integrated piece of people’s everyday lives, and that connection only grows stronger with every update produced. The cell phone has undergone a large-scale evolution throughout the years. What was once a bulky hand-held device at its origin has been transformed into a sleeker, more accessible mobile device. However, while its appearance is of great importance, is there a difference between the cell phone in its early years, and the cell phone of today? Most people would agree that the cell phone has become a necessity, which, when viewing just how much the device has evolved, has more to do with its capabilities rather than its appearance. The cell phone was an intimate technology (Agar, 2013) upon its creation, so what makes today’s cell phones that much more intimate than the previous versions?
In 1947, the concept for the cellular device emerged at Bell Labs in a proposal composed by Rae Young and Douglas Ring (Frenkiel & Schwartz, 2010). They planned to create a car phone that could be operated if a mobile radio system was nearby to carry the frequency. The initial attraction of cellular systems was their ability to reuse channels multiple times in a local area (Frenkiel & Schwartz, 2010). They were also able to provide service over very large areas with low power radios, but a cost-effective cellular system required many channels (Frenkiel & Schwartz, 2010). According to Agar, for the cellular concept to function properly, “a whole fixed infrastructure needed to be in place: base stations, a mobile switching center constantly interrogating a database of personal and geographical information, and connections to the old public switched telephone network”. Though it took quite a bit of time for technology to catch up with their combined concept, the first cellular system in the U.S. was developed between 1971 and 1983 (Frenkiel & Schwartz, 2010).
In the early years of the cell phone, memory was limited solely to the storage of phone numbers and text messages. This was due in part to the original purpose behind the creation: communication. As the cell phone evolved and became equipped with a camera and microphone, it began offering more space to store a limited number of photos, music, and recordings. Features, like voicemail, were gradually incorporated, but required more storage space. As a solution, MicroSD cards were introduced in the early 2000s. MicroSD cards are tiny removable flash memory cards used to expand the amount of storage allotted on a device. Once their popularity was established, a market was designed for downloadable applications and content to fill its space. Today, many cell phones offer adequate memory storage for videos, photos, music and more. Expanded storage space for cellular devices are still sold today, but they are not as much of a necessity as they were when cell phones were just beginning. Today they are regularly purchased for other devices, such as computers and cameras.
Amongst the things that took up space in the early version of the cell phone were applications, commonly referred to as ‘apps’. However, the applications were not nearly as advanced then as they are now. In the early 2000s, gaming applications could be downloaded via Wi-Fi. The application store itself did not officially launch until 2008. Cell phone applications have generated interest among marketers, primarily because of their high level of user engagement (Bellman, Potter, Treleaven-Hassard, Robinson, & Varan, 2011). Today’s applications range from health and fitness to calculators and tutors in nearly every subject. Modern-day cell phones have begun replacing various household gadgets with each new advancement. Stopwatches, alarm clocks, and even computers have all been placed inside of the cell phone. The catch, however, is that the more applications one has on a cellular device, the quicker their battery life will drain. The early version of the cell phone had a longer-lasting battery life in comparison. While battery life is slowly improving amongst modern-day cell phones, it may be a couple of years before it is nearly as revolutionized as the cell phone.
The evolution of mobile data goes hand-in-hand with the evolution of the cell phone. Today, unlimited data is a popular plan offered by most phone companies. However, there was a time when most mobile plans offered limited data per month. This means the customers had to pay for their data in advance; that was all the data they could use until the following month. To prevent using up all of one month’s data, cell phone users were constantly reliant on Wi-Fi for use of the mobile web and anything else that required Internet for use. When cell phones first gained access to the mobile web, it took a few minutes to open a webpage. Those few minutes were still counted against the data plan, regardless of whether the phone ever opened the page. Today, web surfing and video streaming are nearly instant. Unlimited messaging and talking were also unsubstantial in the early years. Pay per minute phone plans, which limited the amount of talk time one could utilize in a month, were what nearly all cell phone users had. Advancements to today’s mobile plans are in the making with talk of only paying for what is used, rather what can be used. Essentially the same as limited data plans, only without the limit.
Cell phone evolution was moving at a steady rate after the device was released into for purchase. The market and pace for development didn’t truly change until the iPhone was put on the market in 2007. The moment this device was released marks the moment that the cell phone began evolving from its intended role as a device for communication into a tool relied on daily. Apple’s iPhone introduced touchscreen functions, access to the Internet through Safari, a virtual keyboard, and offered access to email in the palm of a hand. In 2008, Apple launched an official App Store containing hundreds of applications. Two years later, the iPhone 4 was released with the ability to video call. In 2011, the iPhone 4S made its debut with the first personal assistant, Siri. The progression only took four years, and that is what makes the cell phone one of the fastest advancing devices. Today’s cell phones have so many amenities that they keep the consumers wanting more: durability, facial recognition, water-resistance, and wireless charging features. iPhone has even gone as far as to place all of these gadgets and perks in a watch. Apple is providing its customers with what they think they want, but do the customers know what they want?
When looking at the differences between the early version of the cell phone and today’s version, one cannot exclude the reason(s) why people use(d) them. It has already been determined that the reason why most people used the early versions of the cell phone was because it provided a more convenient way to communicate with friends and family. The reasons listed by the youth are that cell phones promote feelings of belongingness and social connection (Oconnor, et al., 2013). While the modern-day cell phone offers the possibility of maintaining constant contact with one’s social network, the main reason people use them is to feel as if they were among family and friends (Kardos, Unoka, Pléh, & Soltész, 2018). According to both sides, the use of the cell phone has helped people feel a better sense of connection to those around them. Cell phones have somehow evolved into a device that promises instant gratification of social desire, by allowing immediate access to social networks (Kardos, Unoka, Pléh, & Soltész, 2018). How much further will they go in the next few years?
Cell phones have quickly become an integral part of many people’s lives. They have become such an extension of people that, when without them, they feel as though they’ve been disconnected from the world around them. It wasn’t always this way. There was a point in time when people were more connected to each other through simple conversation than they were through today’s technology. Cell phones built a bridge into another world of communication; what was once used only for talking and texting is now used for messaging, video calls, social media, gaming, shopping and entertainment. These changes are what have transformed the cell phone into the advanced, intimate device that it is today. With technology and phone companies continuing to compete, the cell phones that are being created will continue to evolve. The problem, however, is that, due to its social functions, the mobile phone has become associated with the meaning of social relationships. It’s hard to say what the next cell phone upgrade will be, but it is even harder to know how the fast-approaching changes will affect the way humanity communicates with each other. In the end, the question is how technology is going to change humanity.