Half Century of Mobile Phone From Bricks to Sleek
By C K Nayak
“I remembered the line from the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince (Arjun) that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now, I am becoming Death, the destroyer of worlds.” This was quoted by Oppenheimer who regretted inventing the Atom Bomb and died a painful death. Decades later, the inventor of the mobile/cell phone Martin Cooper, an American engineer dubbed the “Father of the cell phone,” repented for the revolutionising invention though in a much lesser way because of its rampant misuse, at times leading to death. He also does not know how to use plethora of aps younger generation is using in the mobile phone today!
Cooper, says the neat little device we all have in our pockets has almost boundless potential and could one day even help conquer disease. But right now, we can be a little obsessed. “I am devastated when I see somebody crossing the street and looking at their cell phone. They are out of their minds,” the 94-year- old told the media. He himself uses a top- end iPhone, flicking intuitively between his email, photos, YouTube and the controls for his hearing aid. But Cooper confesses, with several million apps available, it can all feel a bit much. “I will never, ever understand how to use the cell phone the way my grandchildren and great grandchildren do,” he says.
Interestingly, the slick and slim mobile phone of today was not like that when Cooper invented it half a century ago. It weighed about two kg with the size of a brick and could last for 25 minutes talk time because of the heavy battery and weight. Its use of range was limited and functions restricted to talk only. At 5000 $ (about 40 lakh rupees) its rate was exorbitantly high unlike today’s phone which comes in a fraction of that price. Going by the sheer number there are more mobile phone subscriptions in the world today than there are people.
At the time Cooper was working for Motorola, leading a team of designers and engineers who were engaged in a sprint to come up with the first proper mobile technology and avoid being squeezed out of an up-and- coming market. The company had invested millions of dollars in the project, hoping to beat out Bell System, a behemoth that dominated US telecoms for more than a century from its inception in 1877.Bell’s engineers had floated the idea of a cellular phone system just after World War II, and by the late 1960s had taken it as far as putting phones in cars -- partially because of the huge battery they needed. But for Cooper, that didn’t represent real mobility.
Towards the end of 1972, Cooper decided he wanted a device that one could use anywhere. With the entire resources of Motorola at his disposal within three months he had cracked it, unveiling the DynaTAC -- Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage – phone. But it just had to work. He rang his rival in Bell, Dr Joel Engel and said, “Joel, this is Martin Cooper... I’m talking to you on a handheld cell phone. But a real cell phone, personal, portable, handheld.’ “There was silence on the other end of the line.” Reasons were obvious. Rest is history.
“In the future, we can expect the cell phone to revolutionize education, it will revolutionize healthcare. “I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but I want you to know within a generation or two, we are going to conquer disease.” Just like watch monitors heart rate while one swims, and phone monitors hearing aids, phones will one day be connected to an array of bodily sensors that will catch illness before it develops, he says.
It’s all a long way from where it started with that monster handset, but while he didn’t envisage every development, Cooper always knew the device he and his team came up with would change the world. And it did. As for the problem of people staring at their phones too much, Cooper said. But basically, there are main ten ill effects of the little wonder- Poor vision, Lack of focus, Anxiety, Isolation, Poor academic performance, Accidents, Sleep loss and Bad posture.
In India alone a total of 1,997 road accidents occurred in 2021 leading to 1,040 deaths due to the use of mobile phones while driving, according to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) report. These are only recorded figures and the actuals would be more. Another international study revealed that more teens, feel depressed and attempt suicide and commit suicide possibly due to a major change in teens’ lives- the sudden rise of the smartphone.
Along with massive use of mobile phones, accumulation of mobile tower establishments in every nook and corner has raised questions on its probable impact on human health and wildlife. Electro- magnetic Radiations (EMR) are released by the cell phone towers. These electromagnetic power radiations affect birds and bees more because of their small body parts. EMR may cause physical and physiological changes in human beings due to the thermal effects generated from the absorption of microwave radiations.
The exposure can lead to genetic defects and affect the reproduction process. It also affects the central nervous system of the body. EMR can also cause non-thermal effects which are caused by radiofrequency fields at levels too low to produce significant heating and are due to movement of calcium and other irons across the cell membrane. Such exposure is known to be responsible for fatigue nausea, irritability, headache, loss of appetite and other physiological disorders. Mobile phone manufactures have denied such reports though not dismissed altogether.