The middle-aged mobile

18 May 2013

THE first public mobile phone call was made just over forty years ago, on 3 April 1973. The caller was a Motorola engineer in New York City. The phone was a cream-coloured brick, a prototype of the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, which weighed a kilogram and took ten hours to charge.

Over the past few weeks the international media has been throwing a birthday party for what is now a middle-aged technology (if you missed the festivities, try The nostalgic photos of flip-phones and classic Nokias remind us how far the technology has come.

As it enters its fifth decade, the mobile is the centrepiece of a US$800 billion industry. Ubiquitous in virtually every nation, it has displaced the personal computer as the focus of investment and innovation in consumer technologies. In recent years a growing body of research has been documenting the cultural history of mobile technology, exploring the diverse ways in which it shapes public and private life. Three recent books on the topic capture a representative sample of the fascinating debates under way…

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