A little over 40 years ago, it was still the stuff of science fiction to pluck a phone out of your pocket or briefcase, turn it on and place a call. And, while we still can't flip open a phone and call a spaceship the way Capt. James T. Kirk did on Star Trek in the 1960s, advances in wireless technology since the first mobile
phone was tested four decades ago have drastically changed the way human beings keep in touch.
The first mobile call on April 3, 1973 -- the space age version of Alexander Graham Bell's famous "Mr. Watson, come here, I need to see you," spoken on the very first landline on March 10, 1876 -- came through on a Motorola DynaTac, placed by designer William Cooper. On the other end was Joel Engell of Bell Labs.
The Real Deal
"I called and told him, 'Joel, I'm calling you from a cellular phone, a real cellular phone, a handheld, portable, real cellular phone,' " Cooper told CNN recently.
According to the Daily Beast, the device was 10 inches long and 2-1/2 pounds, and Cooper, who still works in technology, had been inspired by Kirk's easy ability to phone home to the crew of the Enterprise. A model of the DynaTac, the 8000x, was the first to be commercially sold, in 1983.
The DynaTac was about the size of a walkie-talkie, and that design would be virtually unchanged for some years: Check out 1990's Pretty Woman and you'll catch millionaire mogul Richard Gere in one scene whip out a model that's roughly the size of his forearm, with a retractable antenna.
These days a mobile phone is no particular status symbol -- though certain models can be -- and most of the world has at least one. According to the Ericsson Mobility report of 2012, global mobile penetration reached 6.4 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, though the number of people using mobile phones is smaller since many people have both work and personal phones.
So many people have mobile phones now that sales may be starting to slip. Gartner Research recently said sales to end users fell 1.7 percent to 1.75 billion last year, the first slippage since 2009.
Cell phones have surely saved untold numbers of lives in four decades by increasing quick access to emergency services, added personal convenience and made it easier to do business, but like every other advancement in technology, it's not without its drawbacks.
"I guess it means I can't take a vacation without bringing it along for fear of the mountain of e-mails and other communications I will see when I return," Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney told us. "It's destroyed the 9-to-5 workday."
But, he added, "it's enabled opportunities for individuals and countries to join the upper echelons of technologically advanced societies and to bootstrap themselves into new economies. It enabled the Arab Spring and the roadside bomb.
"I guess the bottom line is that the Internet is now expanded to include the connected human. Overall I think it's a positive thing for society, and has done for mobility what the car did in early 1900s."