It’s the middle of 2020 and there’s so much going on and our tech is such a key part of our lives that it’s hard to imagine what it was like before we all carried these devices. Today, technology is everywhere. It is invasive, protective, liberating and restricting. It enhances our lives and can just as easily ruin them. We can’t seem to live without it, but there are times when we wish we could.
We can communicate with nearly anyone almost anywhere in the world instantly. We can pay our bills, order food, book a vacation, and work and never need to touch paper, handle money or physically be in any specific place to do these things, we can do them remotely, anytime, anywhere and without a traditional desktop computer.
We can see places we’ve never knew exited, listen to music we might not have ever heard, experience the awe and mystery of different lives, different cultures, different views, different languages and never leave our homes.
We can capture the beauty that love and respect for one another can bring to light or expose the ugliness of hate and intolerance that used to exist in the shadows of our society. And we can share what we find with the world in an instant.
We can do it all with our mobile phones.
Our technology is so ingrained into the very fabric of our lives that you might think that it has always been that way, but in truth, it wasn’t so long ago that the very tech that we take for granted today didn’t exist. Before 1973, handheld mobile phones we used now was the stuff of science fiction. There were mobile phones in cars, but they were only for the rich. Then Motorola introduced the first truly mobile handheld phone and it was a brick of a device. The underlying infrastructure to support such devices barely existed and it wasn’t until the advent of analog cellular technology, allowing increased mobility, that the mobile phones became something viable for the more of the population.
As mobile infrastructure morphed and grew so did the adoption of the technology it supported. Smaller devices that became increasingly capable and, most importantly, cheaper quickly became the focus of the consuming public.
Then, something strange happened, having a mobile phone transformed from an oddity and toy for the rich, to a fashion statement, to a necessity for living in a modern world. Being able to contact friends, family, employees, and associates whenever and wherever they might be became a new social norm. But the bulk of that communication did not need the immediate attention that voice calls demanded, and that’s where texting fit in.
In the background, analog cellular service was being replaced by digital service which could, given enough bandwidth, deliver the Internet to mobile phones. Thus the Smart Phone was born. Then, not only could you make calls and send and receive text messages, you could send and receive photos and documents, use applications that used to only be found on desktop computers, and, most importantly, browse the Internet. But the experience was sorely lacking. Webpages weren’t designed for narrow bandwidths and small screens. Just reading a webpage was often a challenge and if the page offered any kind of interaction, like scrolling or imbedded movies, the mobile devices of the day just couldn’t handle it.
In 2007 Apple changed all of that when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. While it wowed the crowd present at the introduction the mobile phone industry didn’t quite know what to make of the device that had no hardware keyboard, no stylus, but sported a huge (3.5”) screen and 5 buttons.
By today’s standards the first iPhone was laughably simplistic. Watch the video of the introduction. Jobs gets applause when he uses his spreading fingers on the phone’s touch screen to enlarge a photo, flicks his finger to scroll through his contact list and taps his finger to enlarge an articles on the New York Times webpage. Remember that what Jobs is showing had been available on mobile devices before the iPhone, but none of it was integrated and optimized to be used on a mobile device with a touch user interface before. It was, in a word, revolutionary.
Today’s iPhone sport more computing power than high priced, high-powered, cabinet filling computers had just a decade ago. We can shoot and edit videos, compose music, interact with virtual objects, play games against opponents anywhere in the world all while taking a call or video chatting with friends. Our phones alert us when a child is lost, warn us when tornadoes approaches, defend us when we are threatened, entertain us when we are bored. Our phones can record our interactions with law enforcement, spread conspiracy theories and bring secrets and inadequacies to light, and promote both truths and lies with equal measure. And we can do it all in real time, in high resolution, and with high quality wireless sound.
Back in 1978 I bought my first computer, a TRS-80 Model 1. I worked part-time at a local Radio Shack for 6 months to save enough to buy it. When I brought it home my wife and neighbors all asked me the same question, “What good is it?” Back then a 25” color TV and a touch-tone landline phone was the epitome of consumer electronics. My answer to their question was that the clunky set of hardware sitting on my dining room table was the future. Looking at my iPhone 11 now, even I couldn’t imagine then how true that statement was.
Check out Steve Jobs introducing thefirst iPhone in 2007 here