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“Beam Me Up, Scotty!”

Ever since Captain Kirk said ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ on his communicator back in 1960s Star Trek, the mobile phone has evolved from the stuff of science fiction to the status of indispensible everyday accessory. The first handheld mobile phone was invented in 1973 by a researcher at Motorola. It weighed a hefty 2.5 pounds and was 9 inches long, not exactly something that could fit snuggly into your pocket.

Young people take mobile phones for granted; in fact revenues from  landlines have be declining over the last few years as people see little reason to maintain a landline, when their mobile provides them with everything they need. With the advent of mobiles has come not only a new language – text speak- but a host of everyday situations without a protocol or etiquette to guide people on the correct and incorrect use of a mobile phone. Many countries have had to introduce legislation to ban the use of mobiles while driving, for instance.

Research has shown that even talking on a hands-free mobile while driving can lead to greater distraction and chance of accidents, contrary to the popular belief that hands-free is safe. This is like being distracted by your kids squabbling on the back seat- your mind is not 100% focused on the road.

At a concert or movie how many times have you witnessed an embarrassed patron fumbling for the mobile phone he forgot to switch off? Increasingly, movie theaters, concert halls and art galleries are making use of jammers to block mobile phone signals, but this is a legal grey area in the US, where it has been challenged as unconstitutional for preventing freedom of communication.  The Batman cinema shooting in Colorado last July gives a clear indication of why people will lobby hard to challenge phone jamming in public places.

Apart from the irritation of someone using a mobile phone in close proximity to others, there have also been health scares in recent years over the increased incidence of brain tumors associated with prolonged exposure to electromagnetic radiation next to the ear, although the evidence is tenuous. The TV program Myth busters  showed convincingly that all those ‘Switch off mobile phones’ signs at gas stations are redundant; try as they might, they couldn’t get a mobile under any conditions to ignite petrol fumes, which is presumably why they have those signs at gas stations.

Another interesting evolution has been the smart phone. Within a few years these have become much cheaper and readily available to the extent that I imagine the words smart phone will disappear soon in favor of just a ‘phone’- all phones will be smart, all singing and all dancing. I’m still proudly using my old unsmart Nokia Slide, that doesn’t do Facebook, MSN, email or Twitter. It just does phone calls and texts. Now, when they invent something really useful like the transporter and you can beam down to anywhere on the planet in seconds, I’ll be the first to embrace it! Imagine a world without the tedium of air travel.

By Stewart Hird

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