Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Evolution of the Phone

The first phone I can remember was an old rotary dial job that sat on a little shelf cut into the hallway.  This magic little device allowed us, actually mostly my parents, to call other people at their homes or businesses and have a quick conversation with them.  You could only talk to them when they were home, and could not leave a message if they were not.  No caller ID, no redial, no contact lists, and you didn't even own the phone, it was rented from the phone company.  But it allowed you to reach out and touch someone from a distance.

The location of this phone is instructive as well.  It was in the hallway.  You stood there and made or received your call.  That meant that you did not talk for long.  You were in the way of others using the hallway, as well as standing up throughout the conversation.  That phone was something that was used occasionally.  It was not a featured part of home life.

I am somewhat foggy on the order of changes, but as time went on, that old rotary dial phone become a pushbutton phone, became smaller, moved into the living room beside a chair, and became a commodity you could purchase at many local stores.  Caller ID and answering machines also became accessories you could add to your phone to make it more useful and convenient.  And cordless phones became popular, allowing you to move away from a central location without having a long tether trailing behind you.

At some point I started seeing TV shows where detectives or business executives had phones in their cars.  Phones the size of a brick that plugged into the car.  But now, if you could afford it, you could talk on the phone while driving down the road; assuming you happened to be near a cell tower.  But while I saw the usefulness of caller ID, answering machines and cordless phones, I could see little value in adding a brick that would allow me to talk on the phone while I drove around.  Talking on the phone was just not that important to me.

But eventually the time came when cell phones became small enough, and cheap enough, that the wife and I decided to take the plunge and invested in a cheap clamshell phone apiece.  While the phones had calendars and a few other basic apps, they were primarily phones with the ability to send text messages.  I found that I did not really like talking on a cell phone any more than I did on a landline, although it was more convenient.  But I did discover text messaging and found that to be more useful.  I don't really send all that many texts, but it did allow me to communicate without having to talk; a small victory.

And that really led to the next phone, one with a full keyboard to make it easier to text with.  In theory that seemed like a good idea.  But the keys were so small, and my fingers so big and clumsy, that texting remained a slow and tedious operation.  Still, it was an improvement over the clamshell and the requirement to hit a key multiple times to get most of the letters.

About 5 years ago I started seeing adds for a new phone on TV, the Droid.  And I had to have one.  I am normally pretty immune to television advertising.  But for some reason this one got through.  And so, about 4 1/2 years ago, I took the plunge into the world of smartphones, as, surprisingly enough, did my wife.

I am on my third smartphone now, a Galaxy S5, and really like it.  But is it really a phone anymore?  Yes, it does include phone capabilities that I use occasionally.  But it is so much more.

  • I use it to read and send email from both of my accounts
  • I use it to do Facebook
  • I send many more text messages than I do phone calls
  • I .maintain my calendar and get calendar alerts on the phone, helping me to keep appointments
  • I have a Bible app on the phone with several translations
  • I read books stored on the phone
  • I listen to my music
  • I look up information on the web, like ferry schedules and word definitions
  • I get weather forecasts and alerts
  • I use it to track my running, showing me where I have gone as well as the distance, pace and time
  • I use it as a GPS enabled map, showing me where I am and giving directions to some distant location
  • I have several backpacking apps that can keep me on the trail and provide information about the trail ahead as well as communicate with home
  • I can take pretty decent pictures and share them easily
There is actually little my laptop can do that my phone cannot also do, although the full sized keyboard on the laptop is a definite plus when generating large documents.  But my phone is much more portable and nearly always with me,and actually does much that the laptop will not.  Plus, I can use it to make the occasional phone call.

It is really hard to believe how much the phone has changed even in just the past 10-15 years; going from a simple communication device, to a tool that has been integrated into so many areas of my life.  I cannot think of anything that has changed more during that span of time.  10 years ago I could have easily given up my phone.  But today that would be much harder for me to do; it seldom leaves my side.  Am I addicted?

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