The Cell Phone Turns 40: Pros & Cons of a Cordless Life

Forty years ago today, Motorola engineer Martin Cooper stood out in front of the New York Hilton in Midtown Manhattan and made the very first call on a mobile phone. The scene, while revolutionary, would seem comical to us now: the phone, a Motorola Dynatac, weighed over two pounds, was nearly a foot long, and only delivered 20 minutes of battery time.

Just four decades later, cell phones, and now smartphones, live in the pocket or purse of nearly everyone in the United States. Our phones tell us the time, give us directions, take pictures, entertain us and help us exercise, all while making it possible to post each and every sordid detail to the internet without going anywhere near a computer.

Few among us would prefer to return to a time of corded phones, but the impact of the cell phone on our behavior and quality of life hasn’t all been positive.


Never miss a call. Never again will you miss that interview call back or message that your friend came through surgery safely. As long as it’s charged, your cellphone provides immediate communication with your world

GPS. The days of the humiliating “pull-over-and-ask-for-directions” detour are over. Simply plug in the address or business name, and your GPS-enabled phone provides turn by turn directions. Of course, not all in-phone navigation systems are perfect, so common sense is still a plus.

App-stravaganza. Mobile apps started out as toys–ringtones, arcade games, calendars and calculators–but have since completely revolutionized cell phone technology. Apps turn our phones into pedometers, personal trainers, tuning forks, shopping guides, nutritionists, music libraries, stores, televisions and more.

Activism. By connecting mobile phones to the internet, we’ve breathed new life into grassroots activism. Mobile access to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter make it possible for activists to organize and assemble in the blink of an eye. They’re also a way to thwart regimes that seek to prevent news of revolution from reaching the outside world.


Never miss a call. Thanks to mobile phones, land lines have become obsolete. And now it’s nearly impossible to avoid annoying acquaintances or nagging bosses by claiming you were out when they called. Vacations lose their meaning as we sneak away to check work emails or respond to client requests remotely.

E-Waste. Everyone wants the newest, fastest cell phone on the market, and manufacturers are happy to oblige. Every year, upgrades or damage make 100 million cell phones obsolete. The problem is that cell phone coatings are often made of lead, and their lithium-ion batteries can explode if exposed to high temperatures or direct sunlight, which are common conditions in landfills. E-waste recycling rates are improving, but far too slowly.

Addiction. We are addicted to our mobile phones. The idea of turning them off or leaving them at home gives heavy users instant anxiety. Walk down the street and you’ll see people everywhere with eyes glued to the screen. The idea of making an actual voice phone call makes us nervous, we prefer to converse in short text messages rife with bad grammar and emoticons. We’re obsessed with checking in on Facebook, uploading images on Instagram and tweeting about what a good time we’re having instead of, you know, actually having a good time.

What do you love/hate most about the cell phone? Scroll through the Mashable infographic below and then share your thoughts in a comment!


Related Reading:

What Does A Green Cell Phone Look Like?

The Blood In Our Cell Phones

Is A 6 Year-Old Too Young For A Cell Phone?


Image via Thinkstock

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Debbi -.
Debbi -.8 days ago

A local news story tonight was about a man, who raped & killed 6 women in the '80's. He was convicted and given the death penalty. He's managed to wrangle retrials for various reasons. Today he was, for the 4th time, convicted. However, he will get yet another trial __because one or more of the Jurors posted info about the trial, during the trial from their cell phones!!!!!!!!!!

How consummately stupid do you have to be to do that?! Those jurors should have to pay the cost for another trial, not the country!!!

J. J.
J. J.2 years ago

Welcome to the tech age...

Peggy Ausmus
Peggy A.2 years ago

Thanks for the reminder of how it was.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson2 years ago

I lose my phone too much... for days at a time. I am 22.. so no, all of us aren't addicted

Michael H.
Mike H.2 years ago

People should have a cell phone screwed to their head.

Brampton Florist
Brampton Florist2 years ago

I loved the post

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe2 years ago

I have a plain and simple cell phone which I use to make actual phone calls - no texting, no e-mail (that's on the computer), no apps, etc... I'm too old to learn all that stuff (LOL).

When I was working, I used my cell phone more often, but now that I'm not, I usually use it when I'm shopping and I lose my husband in the store (LOL)!

char l.
Past Member 2 years ago

Oh, and I have a Jetpak Wi-Fi device so I can get the weather on my laptop down in the storm shelter. :oD Boy, is THAT a wonderful thing to have!!

char l.
Past Member 2 years ago

No land line. Have DSL, still, because I download a lot of games, and the wireless is still too expensive for huge downloads. But we have a shared plan, and we use our cell phones ALL the time. Neat - even though we live in the boonies, we now have 4G!

But I never text, though I occasionally send email from the phone. I use the eBay app, and play games with the Pogo app. The phone is my alarm clock, as well. (You can hit the snooze button indefinitely, LOL.) I had a Samsung for 5 years before getting the smart phone. Hopefully this one will last as long. We sold our old phones to a cell phone store for re-use.

We've had cells since the late 90s, and they've come a LONG way. They are a tool - a really neat tool - and you should use your tools, and never let THEM own YOU. I can't imagine not having a cell phone, or a computer, and have a hard time understanding the Luddites who don't, LOL. But, to each their own.

Michael H.
Mike H.2 years ago

The addiction and the ewaste are terrible