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Diane Mufson: Ringing within the New Yr — with our telephones – jj

Diane Mufson: Ringing within the New Yr — with our telephones


Last month, my iPhone 6 crashed; I was crushed. I and millions, maybe billions, of people worldwide are now dependent on an object that only reached the mass market a dozen years ago. As we ring in 2020, a time which sounded wildly futuristic in my youth, our phones remind us of the amazing changes in communication devices.

Just two decades ago many governments, organizations and individuals worried that their communication systems would collapse as 1999 morphed into the next century. Seems silly now.

“Older” folks can’t help smiling when a person born in the 21st century asks, “How did you ever live without a cell phone?” The old stand-by landline phones, many which are now on their way to landfills, once were the gold standard. In one generation, most of the world has gone from limited capacity, permanently wired phones to a hand-held computer capable of connecting the farthest reaches of the earth.

Some “mature” readers may even recall verbally giving a three- or four-digit number to a phone operator who manually connected one phone line with another or even using party lines, where a few unrelated families shared the same phone number with a letter suffix. Back then phones were basic, black and large. Reception quality and expense limited long-distance calls. Talking was done in the first three minutes; additional minutes were expensive.

Rotary phones, which displaced telephone operators, arrived in the mid 1900s and were pushed out of the mainstream by push button phones. By the 1980s, the cordless phone arrived. I recall walking around my kitchen pleased with an amazingly long phone cord, except when becoming tangled in it.

About 1983, the first commercially available portable phone, the Motorola Dyna TAC, arrived. It cost almost $4,000 and was about a foot long and heavy. It was reminiscent of Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone on the “Get Smart” TV show.

By the late 1990s, affordable and dependable Finnish-made Nokia cell phones became popular. I loved mine, believing that it would give me added security in my drives up I-79 only to find that cell towers were then limited in much of West Virginia.

At the turn of the 21st century, the Canadian-made Blackberry became the cellular darling with its “qwerty” keyboard and “status symbol” quality. President Obama was extremely reluctant to give up his Blackberry when he became president.

Then Steve Jobs, the brilliant eccentric inventor from California, disrupted the world’s personal communication system. His vision led to the Apple iPhone in 2008; it was an immediate success. The iPhone series, now up through eleven, and the Androids phones can and are sometimes used as ordinary phones, but they are really amazingly powerful hand-held computers. Most adults and young people throughout the world who have the money to purchase them, do so. Not only do they permit the phone users to find out more about the world, but they allow the world and their businesses and governments to find out more about the users.

In a decade our present-day phones and communication patterns will be outdated, but today we can ring in the New Year with calls, texts, tweets, photos and more — something few of us envisioned when we entered the 21st century.

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