How Cell Phones Have Changed the World
By Laurel Storm
The first commercially available cell phone was released in 1983 and only let you talk for half an hour before it needed to be recharged. It resembled a brick in size, weight and design, and despite the hefty $3,995 price tag, people were all over it. Since then, phone technology has advanced enough to make cell phones commonplace; basic phones can be obtained without breaking the bank, and top-of-the-line smartphones are more like small computers that can also make phone calls. The pervasive presence of cell phones has changed our lives and society -- sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
With cell phone towers sprouting up like mushrooms all over the world and satellite phones available for areas without coverage, cell phones have brought the world together by allowing people to communicate with each other no matter where they are. Worried parents can give a cell phone to their child and ensure they can always reach him; the homeless can purchase or be gifted inexpensive cell phones to be able to more easily obtain jobs and homes, as well as reach emergency services when in need; busy professionals can be found using cell phones to conduct business while away from the office.
The Changing Face of Language
The Short Message Service text messaging system built into cell phone networks originally only allowed for 160 characters per message. To increase the amount of information they could cram into each message and save time on tapping them out, people started inserting abbreviations, skipping punctuation and using phonetic spelling. Although these restrictions have since been lifted, the habit remains, and some of the changes in the language brought on by texting have extended beyond it. For example, the first recorded use of the abbreviation "OMG" for "Oh my God" is in a 1917 letter sent to Winston Churchill by Lord Fisher; still, it can't be denied that SMS accelerated the changes.
A Computer in Your Pocket
Since the first cell phone, there has been a consistent market push for the introduction of more sophisticated features. The modern smartphone is an evolution of cell phones that combines their usual functionality with that of music players and even computers. Smartphones offer an array of features including games, music playback, email, Internet browsing and document editing. In essence, these smartphones are the Swiss army knives of the cell phone world -- a single tool that fits in your pocket and can do pretty much anything you need it to, making life easier and offering convenient solutions for problems you may encounter, such as being lost in an unfamiliar city.
For all the good that cell phones have done, they can also present a significant hazard when used irresponsibly or thoughtlessly. According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the risk of being involved in a car accident rises dramatically when cell phones are involved; the lives of drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists are endangered daily by irresponsible people who are too distracted by their phone to pay attention to the road.
Even when they don't present a risk to life and limb, cell phones cause a noticeable shift in the way our society functions. Text messages are swiftly replacing face-to-face interactions and even phone calls, affecting our social development and our ability to relate to others. According to MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle, this flight from conversation "can compromise our capacity for self-reflection," a skill that is the bedrock of personal development.
- MSNBC: First Cell Phone a True 'Brick'
- MinnPost: Cell Phones for the Homeless -- Helping Them Connect With Jobs, Homes
- Virginia Tech News: New Data From Virginia Tech Transportation Institute Provides Insight Into Cell Phone Use and Driving Distraction
- CNN: We Never Talk Any More -- The Problem With Text Messaging
- TED: Sherry Turkle -- Connected, but Alone?
Laurel Storm has been writing since 2001, and helping people with technology for far longer than that. Some of her articles have been published in "Messaggero dei Ragazzi", an Italian magazine for teenagers. She holds a Master of Arts in writing for television and new media from the University of Turin.