What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

I got my first cell phone in 1991 when I went to work for Northwest Airlines. It was about the size of a half-thick brick with a semi-flexible antenna that doubled its length. It was also about half brick weight and was good for one thing only – analog voice communications – but only when in range of the then-spotty cell network and only if you were close to its charging stand since the battery life was measured in minutes. It was insecure, low-fidelity, prone to dropped calls and it was a godsend to me.

Over the ensuing 27 (!) years, I’ve probably owned at least 30 phones. I’ve owned the aforementioned bricks, candy bars, flips, sliders and more. I’ve owned Motorola, LG, Nokia, Samsung and – for the last decade – Apple. They’ve gotten smaller, bigger, flatter, thicker, lighter, heavier, gone from monochrome to grayscale to 16-bit color to billions of colors.

And along the way the functionality of what my phone can do has grown. With just my phone, I can do my job, entertain myself, read my email, browse the internet, manage my finances, deposit checks, control the lights in my house, open and close my garage door, change the channel on my TV. I can read a book, watch a movie, order groceries, check the security camera on my front door, identify the stars and track satellites in orbit. I can take broadcast-quality photos and videos, live-stream events from almost anywhere on Earth, play a limitless library of music, check the weather, track a plane, buy a ticket or a car and more.

All this has happened in less than half of my lifetime. And, unlike other eras, when godlike powers were available to only a tiny elite, cell phone technology is widely available. It’s so common, in fact, that we take it for granted that we can do all of these things from pretty much everywhere.