Happy birthday cell phone call

Last updated: 20 March 2014

Today marks 40 years since the first mobile phone call was made. Picture the scene: Marty Cooper of Motorola stood in front of a bunch of reporters in New York and used a handheld device to call the fixed line phone of Dr Joel Engel, then of Bell Labs.

While it was not the very first wireless call to be made – in-car phones had been around in the USA since the 1940s (although these required an operator to connect calls and couldn’t easily be called from other telephones) – this marks a real milestone in mobile connectivity and one to celebrate.

Yet, despite the remarkable ability to communicate and talk to people via a mobile device from almost anywhere at any time, our love of cell phone calls is subsiding. Clive Thompson commented on this in Wired in 2010, noting that many of us go for days without making calls on their smartphones, instead preferring to text, chat and social network message.

With new forms of communications come new options for interacting, leading to fewer phone calls being made overall. Clive claims that the cell phone call is interruptive, whereas newer communication methods indicate whether or not the recipient is available, e.g. Skype or Facebook Chat.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the cell phone call, however, as everyone is communicating more than 40 years ago – it’s just via new and emerging channels. The telegram gave way to the fax machine, which morphed into email and now social network messaging. The beauty is that the mobile device (and its supporting services) still sits at the heart of these communications, and still has the traditional phone call on offer to those who wish to use it.

So, happy 40th birthday cell phone call. Here’s to the next forty years of communications evolution.

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