Fifty years ago this week — April 3, 1973 to be exact — a historic event took place on a sidewalk in New York City. There, on Sixth Avenue between 53rd and 54th Street, Martin Cooper, an engineer for Motorola, placed the first mobile phone call. He was holding a device approximately the size of your forearm, that more resembled a field communications radio from WWII than what we now know as a mobile phone. He was calling Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, holding a prototype DynaTAC 8000X, which weighed in at 1.1 kilos — that’s approximately two and a half pounds. It would take another decade before mobile phones were available to the public, but this successful call paved the way for the mobile industry that boomers live in today. In the boomers’ adult lifetime, the world went from no mobile phones to what was estimated to be 67% of the world’s population in 2019 owning a mobile phone.
From push-button phones to 8-tracks, VCRs to cassette tapes, the record shows that boomers embraced new technology faster than previous generations. Yet some boomers hesitated to hop on the cell phone bandwagon, and Mister Boomer was one of them. Mister B recalls it seemed like an unnecessary extravagance in its early days. After all, phones were readily available at home and in businesses. However, as time went on, Mister B saw the advantage of having a phone in one’s own pocket. He clearly remembers the event that pushed him into the age of mobile phones.
In the late 1990s, Mister Boomer traveled a bit for the job he had. In one such business trip, he was instructed to call colleagues when he landed at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport so a ride could be arranged. When Mister B deplaned and walked through the maze of hallways to the passenger luggage area, he looked for a pay phone to make his call. There were none to be seen. After far too long a time searching in all the likely spots, he asked an airline employee where he could find the pay phones. “You’ll have to go to the next terminal,” was the response. It was only the 1990s, but already, pay phones were disappearing. Mister B grabbed his luggage (which did not have wheels) and hoofed it over to the next terminal, where he found a small bank of lonely pay phones.
When he returned home and relayed his story to Mrs. Boomer, she cajoled him by saying it was time he got with it, man. She was ready for an upgrade, and offered him her hand-me-down. So it was that near the end of the 1990s, Mister Boomer joined the mobile phone world with a palm-sized device that featured familiar number/letter buttons, but had only a tiny screen that displayed the number being called. It did, however, have a permanent antenna jutting out of the upper right corner.
For now Mister Boomer still has a landline, which is the label people use to describe the wired-into-the-wall home phone that boomers knew their whole lives. In Mister Boomer’s home, that phone sits on a telephone stand. It’s the place he sets his mobile phone down when he arrives home, as well. Old habits are hard to break.
Additional reading about telephones from Mister Boomer:
For Boomers, Phone Followed Function
Boomers Called Long Distance
Boomers Tossed the Party Line
How about you, boomers? Were you an early cell phone adopter, or did you wait a while to get yours?