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The evolution of the phone – could we live without it?

As a human race we need to connect with others, it is how we function as a species, how we find our purpose and maintain our wellbeing.

In today’s world, technology is essential to the way we operate and stay connected with others, to the point that many of us would struggle to function without a mobile phone. This need for human contact and this craving to engage with others has been, and will continue to be, a driving force in the evolution of the phone.

As a telemarketing agency, the phone is central both to the work we do and our personal lives. With the rate of technological development, it has come a long way, so we thought we’d dig into its history, where it started and how it has evolved.

Back to the beginning

We can’t begin to list out the developments of this complex technology without first acknowledging the ‘tin can’ acoustic telephone and the trusty landline.

While the tin can is a far removed relative of the mobile phones we all know and love, the transmission of sound through various objects can be attributed to Robert Hooke from as early as 1667. Otherwise known as the ‘lovers’ phone’, two diaphragms are connected by a piece of taut string that transmits mechanical vibrations to recreate the initial sound from point one to point two (stretching as far as half a mile in ideal conditions – pretty impressive!).

By the 1870s, technological developments and the advent of telegraphy had inspired Alexander Graham Bell to investigate ways to transmit messages using tuned electromagnetic reeds to control variations in pitch and frequency. Not long after in 1876, the telephone patent was created -

“If I can get a mechanism which will make a current of electricity vary in its intensity, as the air varies in density when a sound is passing through it, I can telegraph any sound, even the sound of speech.”

Alexander Graham Bell

In 1877 Gardiner Greene Hubbard, a prominent patent lawyer and colleague of Bell during the early days of his invention, capitalised on the device and formed the Bell Telephone Company that later monopolised multinational telephone communications in the USA. In 1878 Bell performed a demonstration of the telephone to Queen Victoria and later in that year the Telephone Company Ltd was created to market phones in Britain.

From landlines to mobiles

Said to have been inspired by the 1960s Star Trek series, handheld devices originally seemed like a concept that was out of this world (excuse the pun) – but was one that would drive the technology into a service that has become pivotal to the way we interact today.

In the 1970s, this concept quickly became a reality, with Bell Labs beginning to investigate the idea of hosting a cellular network across the US. Inspired by the very same Star Trek series Martin Cooper, an engineer at Motorola, developed the first hand-held phone called the ‘DynaTAC’ in 1984. Despite its likeness to a brick (weighing over 1KG), the new mobile phone was a sensation and quickly became the new ‘must-have’ item among the elite with its (equivalent to today’s cost) $10,000 price tag.

With the first base stations built across the country, Vodafone was able to launch its network on New Year’s Day of 1985, with Cellnet’s launch following days later.

Within three years, network coverage reached 90% of the population.

Regardless of exhaustive marketing attempts to reach wealthy businesspeople, teenagers have been credited with the rapid spread in mobile phone use. Before we knew it, mobile calling was international, facilitated by new GSM systems that digitally transmitted through 2G systems.

Where are we now?

Fast forward from 2G to the recent launch of 5G - huge leaps in technology have been made in a very short time. Our mobile phones are now more than just a way to exchange a call or message, acting as pocket-sized computers with almost limitless capabilities. Microprocessors (originally developed in the 1980s) have been essential to this evolution, providing impressive computing power in small and low-energy circuits.

The advent of 3G networks sparked excitement and made it possible to exchange multimedia data. This opened the door for Apple to launch the iPhone 3G in 2008, further revolutionising the concept of a mobile phone with access to interactive apps, games, maps and much more. By late 2013 one in five people worldwide owned a smartphone. Live video calls, internet browsing, and social media interactions replaced simple text messaging.

The power of this small device continues to change the way we interact and consume data. With wearable and foldable devices, voice-activation, mobile commerce, augmented and virtual reality, AI and machine learning just some of the current trends, phones will continue to transform how we humans connect with each other for many years to come. That said, another recent trend has been the revival of the 'dumb' phone in part due to battery life and durability, but also the desire of many to gain more control of their data and protect their privacy.

With dumb phones enjoying a revival - has the evolution of the phone gone too far? Technology can facilitate but should it define how we interact as humans - what do you think?


Read more: Digital First vs Human First

 
Sources
https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories/ahoy-alexander-graham-bell-and-first-telephone-call#:~:text=On%207%20March%201876%2C%20Bell,speech%20by%20telegraphy%E2%80%94the%20telephone.
https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories/telephone-and-how-it-changed-us
https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories/invention-mobile-phones
https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories/computer-your-pocket-rise-smartphones
 

 

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