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

Cellular devices have revolutionized the way we live our lives, but have they become an addiction in the process?

Cellular devices have revolutionized the way we live our lives

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!

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