On April 3, 1973, Martin Cooper stood on a sidewalk on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan with a device the size of a brick and made the first public call from a cell phone to one of the men he’d been competing with to develop the device. The recipient of the call was another one of the men who had been working on developing the device.
Cooper, who was working as an engineer at Motorola at the time, was speaking on the phone with Joel Engel, who was the head of AT&T-owned Bell Labs. “I’m calling you on a cell phone, but a real cell phone, a personal, handheld, portable cell phone,” Cooper stated.
Even though the average consumer would not have access to cell phones for another ten years, anybody who was walking down the street at the time and happened to pass by Cooper’s house may have watched history being made.
It has been fifty years since Cooper made that first call, and in that time, the cumbersome device he used has been refined and superseded by a wide variety of sleeker and quicker phones. These phones are now everywhere, and they are reshaping industries, culture, and the way we relate to one another and to ourselves. But while the huge reach and influence of cell phones may have caught some people by surprise, Cooper stated that the idea that mobile phones might one day be judged necessary to a large portion of mankind was obvious from the very beginning.
CNN quoted Cooper, who is now 94 years old, as saying, “I was not surprised that everybody has a cell phone.” “Back in those days, we used to tell the children a story that when they were born, they would each be given a unique phone number. If you didn’t pick up the phone, you’d end yourself in the hospital.
The proliferation of the use of mobile phones.
Bell Labs, the famed research branch of AT&T that had produced the transistor and other inventions, was in a race against Motorola to build a cell phone for several months prior to that first call. Motorola was the company that won the race.
According to what he can remember, his competitor wasn’t quite as ecstatic to receive the call as Cooper was to contact him.
“It was obvious that I had no problem with touching his nose in this situation,” she said. Cooper stated to CNN that there was no rude behavior on his part. To this day, Joel does not recall making that phone call, and to be honest, I can’t say that I blame him for that. (CNN was not successful in making touch with Engel.)
After Cooper’s initial call, he indicated that challenges with manufacturing and regulations from the government stalled efforts toward making the phone available to the general public. For instance, Cooper remembers how difficult it was for the Federal Communications Commission, an organization at which he now works as an adviser, to figure out how to divide up radio channels in order to ensure that there is adequate competition.
It would be a decade before a version of that DynaTAC (Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage) phone, which would retail for an exorbitant $3,900, would be available on the market. The phone, which was very much like the one that Gordon Gekko used in the movie “Wall Street,” stood nearly a foot tall and weighed approximately 2.5 pounds.
Compare this to the iPhone 14, which weighs 6 ounces and is just slightly less than six inches, or to any number of Android budget devices that cost between $200 and $300.
“Working to make the human experience more enjoyable”
It wasn’t until the 1990s that the contemporary mobile phone really took off because it was able to dramatically reduce its size while also becoming much simpler to operate. According to research that was conducted in 2021 by the Pew Research Center, as of right now, 97% of Americans own a cell phone of some form.
In the years that have passed since that initial phone call, Cooper has established companies, published a book on the transformative power of the cell phone, participated in speaking tours, and made appearances in the media. Nonetheless, he does not necessarily support all aspects of contemporary technological progress.
“Too many engineers are wrapped up in what they call technology and the gadgets, the hardware, and they forget that the whole goal of technology is to make people’s lives better,” said Cooper. “Too many engineers are wrapped up in what they call technology and the devices, the hardware.” “Oftentimes, people forget that, and it’s my job to bring it back to their attention. We are working to make the experience of being human better. That is the central focus of technological development.”
When he thinks about the past half-century, however, Cooper is generally pleased with the direction that the phone has brought us in. Even though he is an iPhone user himself (and was previously a Samsung user), he like the Apple Watch since it allows him to monitor his swimming activity and connect his hearing aids to his iPhone. In addition, Cooper stated that in his opinion, the development of technology is ultimately beneficial to society.
“I tend to be an optimist. I am aware that there are some drawbacks to using a cell phone. There are some people who find that it leads to addiction. “People are going across the street while talking on their cell phones,” observed Cooper. “It’s very distracting.” “In my opinion, the cell phone has had a positive impact on humanity as a whole, and I believe that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future.”
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