February 02, 2007

Artifacts Found

AS SOME READERS may already know, I am in the process of getting a new car, although to be more precise it will be a different and slightly-used car which will be a newer version of the car I have now. Anyway, as part of this process, I recently embarked on a deep-cleaning of my trusty Ford Taurus.

Much to my amazement, I found in the recesses of my trunk a plastic bag, which contained the owner's manual for an old Motorola mobile telephone, as well as handwritten notes from my mother. Along with telephone numbers, these notes contained calling rates to use the mobile phone in question. The existence of these things confounded me for a bit, but I eventually realized they must have been left behind from when I, with help from my father, moved cross-country from Los Angeles to New Hampshire in the spring of 2001. Readers, I can assure you this find is an amazing look back into the history of mobile communications.

First, consider the phone in question: a Motorola MicroTAC of indeterminate model number. This was a first-generation analog telephone using technology that Motorola first introduced to market in 1989. This phone weighed between 10 and 12 ounces and displayed all of one line of text. It also contained "exceptional features" like a "signal strength meter" and "battery meter," according to the instruction manual.

Next, consider this important warning listed in the instruction manual, which has a copyright date of 1996:


Do not allow children to play with your phone. It is not a toy. Children could hurt themselves or others (by poking themselves or others in the eye with the antenna, for example). Children could also damage the phone, or make calls that increase your telephone bills.


This warning shows the phone dated from a calmer age in our nation's history -- an age when people were still somewhat sane and wouldn't dream of letting their children even touch their mobile phones, much less actually give their kids mobile phones of their own.

Now, I don't know when exactly my parents bought the mobile phone in question, but I do believe it was some time in the mid-1990s. (Loyal Rant Readers know I held out until 2005 to buy one). However, I do know that in 2001, the mobile telephone market was not as developed as it is today. Further, it also cost more to make and receive calls. The following notes should prove of express interest to younger readers, as they will help show why your parents turn pale when you spend hours on the phone talking about nothing:


Charge to call Dad on cell phone is 50 cents per minute (roaming). Charge for all other calls is 85 cents/min. (50 cents roaming + 35 cents long distance).


EIGHTY FIVE CENTS A MINUTE FOR LONG DISTANCE. Good God in Heaven, how did we do it? I mean, this was back when 85 cents was ... well, slightly less insignificant than it is now, but you see where I'm going. And my God -- roaming charges? We paid extra just for the privilege of using our phones outside our local calling areas? What the devil was all that about?

Of course, I'm sure this will lead history-minded readers to recall that back in the day, there were no such things as area codes, and all calls had to be routed through operators, and it could take 15 minutes just to make the connections for a long-distance call. But if we're going to teach the kids about telecommunications history, we can't expect them to sprint before they can walk, now can we?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at February 2, 2007 09:23 PM | TrackBack
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