How mobile phones have changed our lives

Telephones in James Bond advert, 1997
Telephones in James Bond advert, 1997

James Bond has always been quick to adopt the latest technology, but most TV detective series from the 1970s and 80s seem somewhat comical today. The police are not able to catch the crook, because they are not able to find a phone booth, and the hero has to struggle for hours because he can’t make a phone call. This makes today’s viewers want to get out of their chairs and yell at the TV:

“Why don’t you use your mobile phone, you idiot?”

Mobile phones have quickly become taken as much for granted as electricity or central heating. We really don’t remember quite how life was before mobile phones existed.

No one expected it to be like this. When mobile phones were introduced, they were viewed as an exclusive form of telephone service that might possibly suit certain mobile workforces, such as craftsmen, photographers and repairmen.

But everyone underestimated the importance that mobile phones would assume for person-to-person communications. In the 1870s, when the telephone was introduced it was also regarded as a luxury for businessmen, doctors, craftsmen, etc. It was a device of dubious usefulness that certainly could not compete with the telegraph, which of course conveyed explicit written messages, not just idle chat. Before long, however, people began to find uses for the telephone, particularly among family and friends.

The telephone eliminated distance, while the mobile phone released people from the confines of space in much the same manner as the train, the car and the airplane. Above all, however, mobile phones provided freedom for those who previously had little power. The boss can no longer keep tabs on everyone. Young people can phone their friends without their parents knowing.

The mobile phone is now a part of our popular culture. New customs, rituals and routines are developing around what is being used every day. In the pre-industrial society people sang songs about planting and harvesting. In rock music, from the fifties and onwards, cars and motorbikes have been recurring themes. It is only natural that nowadays, in the post-industrialist world of IT we are listening to songs about mobile phones. Right now, in February of 2001, one of the biggest selling songs is Backstreet Boys’ “The Call”, which is about a mobile phone call.

The mobile phone has changed our attitudes and expectations. If people are late to a meeting, they are expected to notify others by calling on their mobile phones. It is no longer necessary to agree on when and where to meet. People can just call each other on their mobile phones and say where they are at the moment.

Probably the most interesting phenomenon, however, is that the mobile phone has freed us from the constraints of space. Through call forwarding from a fixed telephone, a phone call can go almost anywhere. After talking with your best friend for ten minutes, you realize that he is in Dubai. This, in turn, means that excuses, such as “He’s in Paris for two weeks and cannot be reached,” are no longer acceptable. What do you mean, he can’t be reached? Doesn’t he have his phone switched on?

People seem to be born to have a mobile phone in their hands. It is of course just an unfortunate circumstance that mobile phones were not available at the beginning of our existence on the savanna. If they had been, then man surely would have phoned home to the cave and said: “Light the fire, honey, because I’ll be home soon with half a lion.”

In the final analysis, mobile telephony is not a matter of radio waves and electronics, but rather human communication. We need to talk to each other, and that need has been paramount from the day we stood up on two legs. Communication is vital for our survival. Without talking to each other, we would quickly be eaten up by tigers, wolves or our own loneliness.

Author: Marika Ehrenkrona

Mobile phone, R310, commercial, 2000

From a brand commercial for the R310 mobile phone.

Mobile phones, commercial, shower, 2000

From a brand commercial for mobile phones, Shower.

Commercial, mobile phone, model A2618

Commercial, mobile phone, model A2618

Commercial, mobile phone, model R310 (female)

Commercial, mobile phone, model R310 (female)

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

Contact info/About the site