Both my adult children have recently had their phones stolen. Both were bereft.
This lead to the following email to my son with some reflections on life without a mobile phone.
How are you finding life without a phone?
Interesting to reflect on this. You were born in to a world where very few had mobile communications, but I had a car phone by the time were you were two and you had your own mobile at 14, so pretty much all of your independent life you have had a mobile phone. You are of the first generation in this position and it has certainly changed the world.
As a teenager most of my friends had a phone at home although there was a significant minority without one (we didn’t have one until I was 12, and your mother had long left home before her parents installed one) I spent most of my time at university and in the few years after in shared houses with no phone.
Mobile communications was for a few restricted uses and much restrained by cost, the technology, available radio spectrum and regulation. The only way for an individual citizen to get legal mobile communication was as an amateur radio enthusiast and this required a licence that necessitated passing technical and Morse code tests, but did give you access to SW radio which with the aid of a big enough aerial and a shed full of kit allowed global communication (SW will propagate in the ionosphere, so with the right conditions you could get voice communications with Australia).
Radio telephones using VHF were restricted with civilian licences only available to the likes of taxi firms, private security operators and GPs These things operated with a base station with a big aerial and could manage a few 10’s of Km range, but only very short distances mobile-mobile without relay through the base station which required manual patching by the base station operator.
One of first publically available national radio telephone service came with deregulation in the early 1980’s which allowed Securicor to open up their network of base stations (set up to communicate with their armoured delivery vehicles) to anyone who could afford it. This service still requires manual intervention to patch you through to another user and the operator could also patch you through to the POTS and would do things like make a restaurant reservation for you. The kit was such that it really needed to be installed in a car, but it was possible to get a luggable unit. However, this technology was very expensive and really only affordable by rich individuals or businesses with imperative need for mobile communication. I worked with someone who had a Securicor phone and I made my first mobile call on it in 1983.Shortly after Securicor partnered with BT to set up the Cellnet mobile network.
The introduction of cellular phones in the mid-1980’s started the mobile revolution as it massively increased capacity and provided automated switching between mobiles and with the POTS. The first phones were luggable and really needed a car installation, but I used one of these on the train for the first time in 1987. Also at about this time the first phone designed as a hand portable appeared this was the size of a brick with a 6 inch aerial (it battery life was also about that of a brick) This was a great favourite with City Boys and is probably the most iconic artefact of Thatcher’s “loads-a-money” deregulated Britain http://bit.ly/cpusa1
With my car phone in 1987 I was amongst the first to have a mobile It cost over £1,500. However over the next 10 years prices fell, the technology improved (and importantly went digital allowing SMS messages), network coverage and devices improved and by the mid 90’s mobile phones had become affordable by the masses.
Before than life was different. Meeting up with people required that you knew where to find them (people were much more tied to home or office) or prior arrangement (mainly made by fixed line phone.)When you were out and about it was difficult to communicate and the only way it could be done was with complex arrangements using call boxes and other fixed line phones to relay messages. There was much hanging about and prematurely terminated activities when pre-arranged rendezvous got out of step with changing circumstances and you never knew if you had just been stood up, forgotten or if some disaster had befallen the person you were supposed to be meeting.
In your world all of this has changed and it’s a double edge sword. On one side you get the peace of mind of easy communication and you are freed from the need to tie yourself to particular locations and pre-arranged plans, while on the other side you are expected to be always available, always contactable.
All in all the connected world seems a better one to me, but it is interesting to discover what we do when these things breakdown, particularly those with no experience of different ways.