The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

April 5, 2013

LEVINE: Keeping up with mobile technology

By Scott Levine
Herald Associate Editor

---- — About 20 years ago, I was amazed at Zach Morris' ability to make a phone call while sitting in class.

Sure, I was only about 8 years old, but my world at home involved those archaic phone devices that plugged into the wall. Seeing Zack from "Saved by the Bell" pull out the 9-inch phone from his backpack, and proceed to order pizza from his mobile phone, was amazing.

The ability to carry a phone at all times was almost that of science fiction to me as a grade schooler in southwest Iowa.

Now, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the mobile phone this week, the future looks even more out of this world.

It's been 40 years since a Motorola employee made a mobile phone call in 1973, and the world has seen plenty of changes, especially since the time of Zack Morris in the early 1990s.

My family bought a cordless phone in the the mid '90s, but its range died out when we entered the garage. It was great to have the freedom of not being chained to the kitchen where our other phone lived, but it didn't have that freedom that accompanied cell phones.

We didn't enter the world of mobile technology until the early 2000s, when my dad got a cell phone. My parents caved later when I was a high schooler, and I got my first cell phone.

I had finally made it. My phone was a little smaller than Morris', but I now had the ability to make crank phone calls and scheme my friends all in the comfort of my desk at school. Unfortunately real life isn't quite like "Saved by the Bell," and teachers didn't allow phones in their classrooms.

But I was able to play the game Snake, a video game that makes Pac Man look modern, on my phone while I passed time waiting for a ride or for the next class. I didn't see the point of texting, and taking photos with my phone was only a pipe dream for more technologically savvy people.

However, since I possessed my first cell phone, technology has changed...just a bit. I can watch videos, surf the Internet and bank from my iPhone.

My 2-year-old daughter is almost more advanced on my phone than I am, just as long as the subtitles don't pop up on her PBS video app. Then she actually needs my help, something that is becoming fewer and farther between.

Phones, like many other technologies, have made drastic changes during the years.

So what's in store for the next 40 years? More rapid advances.

The advent of 3G networks in the mid-2000s accelerated mobile technology to what it has become. Like I said earlier, not many advances were made from the first cell phone call in 1973 to Zack Morris' giant phone in 1993, but since then, the demand for the devices has increased.

And with greater technology, more items are now available, like videos and banking.

In the future, experts agree that phone technology will only get better. Video conferencing will become more of a reality from a phone and streaming television shows will be easier with more data available along network lines.

But with all this technology, is it making us better human beings?

Having my cellphone on me at all times doesn't help with my patience. Ten years ago, when I waited in a line, I had to entertain myself before it was my turn. Now, I go straight to my cellphone, and if it's not on me, the 5-minute wait seems like an eternity.

I might actually have to talk to someone next to me. What an inconvenience.

And the phone has become a crutch for parents. When my daughter is acting like a typical 2-year-old in a public setting, it's too easy to reach in my pocket and hand her my phone. That's something my wife and I strive not to do, but it's an option, and in some cases, it's just easier than teaching her the real lesson of being patient and acting appropriately.

Lastly, phones have made us rude. I can't count how many times I'm in a conversation with someone and I check my phone in the middle of their conversation. That isn't fair to the person I'm talking to, and once again, that's something I try not to do, no matter how much I want to check that latest message.

Like all technology, phones will become better, cheaper and be even more entrenched in our daily lives. Hopefully that doesn't mean we become even more of a slave to our phones. Because there's still nothing better than a face-to-face conversation with an actual human being.

Scott Levine is the Clinton Herald's associate editor.