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6 minutes reading time (1151 words)

40th Anniversary of the Cell Phone

Cell phones are now a routine part of the lives of billions of people. But that has been a long time in coming.

Willow, Abby (April, 2013). How Much Did the Original Cell Phone Cost? Retrieved 4/4/2013 from

Quoting from the article:

The original cell phone was first used by Martin Cooper on April 3, 1973. He created a 30 ounce cell phone (that's nearly 2 pounds!) and would walk around New York talking on his wireless phone. Working with Motorola as their general manager, he envisioned a wireless phone that people could use while walking down the street. Ten years later, in 1983, that vision came to light for the general population. Motorola produced the first cell phone for public use. It weighed a pound, and cost the average individual $3,500!

That $3,500 cost would be approximately $7,900 in today’s money. And, of course, the first commercially-produced cell phones did not have: built-in color digital still and video camera; provisions for storing and playing music and games, or viewing videos and TV; texting and email; voice recognition; access to the Web; social networking; or GPS facilities. “We have come a long way, baby.”

The Website - uniquesubscribers indicates that in November, 2012, there were about 4.3 billion people who, in total, had about 6.4 billion cell phone subscriptions. The Website reports that cell phone sales in 2012 were about 1.75 billion units. While the numbers reported in articles of this sort can vary, it is clear that there are a great many cell phones in use today relative to a total earth population of about 7 billion people.

Some General Issues to Think About

These reports started me thinking about several things:

  •  Children do not need to go to school to learn to use the basic features of today’s cell phones. (Of course, it requires reading and writing to do texting and email.) In many ways, children’s informal education (especially learning from each other), trial and error, and lots of practice allow them to move beyond the cell phone knowledge and skills of many adults. This is true for many of the other new technology-based innovations as well.
  • I have seen a wide variety of technological innovations during my lifetime. How have they affected me and the world I live in? I believe this a good question for each of us to explore and for us to help our children and grandchildren explore. It is easy to say, “We are living in a rapidly changing world.” But what is actually changing that makes a significant difference, and how do we all cope with these changes? Are the changes stressful to you, your family, and others in your world? What are the ongoing educational challenges our schools face with each new technological innovation?
  • All new innovations tend to have both plusses and minuses. In particular, each innovation is an aid to solving certain types of problems and also creates other types of problems. In terms of access, thereare the “haves” and the “have nots.” In terms of what information is accessible, we can think of the Web as a gigantic library. The issue of protecting children from inappropriate material—for example, by careful selection of a school’s library holdings—is overwhelmed by the magnitude and rapidly changing holdings of the Web.
  • In terms of formal education, the cell phone contributes to the schism betweenwhat goes on in school and what goes on in the lives of children outside the classroom.
  • How well is our adult-driven educational system coping with these and many more pluses and minuses of rapidly advancing technologies?

Posing Researchable Questions

 I find that almost any topic that interests me lends itself to testing my memory and my information retrieval skills. For example, did the cell phone come into general use before or after the Sony Walkman? My younger readers might ask, “What is a Sony Walkman and how does it relate to a cell phone?” Here are some additional questions that occurred to me as I was writing this IAE Blog entry:

  1. When was television invented and when did it become widely available to the general public?
  2. What is the difference between a Walkie Talkie—used during World War II that ended in 1945—and a cell phone?
  3. When was the transistor invented, and were transistors used in the first cell phones?
  4. When was the Internet developed—and how about the Web? Can you explain the differences between the Internet and the Web?
  5. When was photography invented? When were digital still cameras and digital video cameras invented? The answers to this second question may surprise you. See
  6. How much “compute power” do today’s smart phones have relative to various computers built during the past few decades? For example, how do today’s smart phones compare to the room-sized multimillion-dollar super computers of 30 or 35 years ago?
  7. When did voice input to computers first become commercially successful? How can a smart phone understand and carry out spoken commands? What roles, if any, does Artificial Intelligence play in this endeavor?

The point I am making is that the cell phone has a long history with very deep roots. Children of all ages—including we adults—can have fun posing and answering questions related to both newly emerging and older technologies. We can also contemplate what might come next!

What You Can Do

We live in a complex and rapidly changing world. Some of us revel in the fun of being an integral, engaged part of the changes. Others of us tend to withdraw—perhaps hoping that “the good old days” will return. Do some introspection about how you deal with the changes and how you influence others who are faced by similar changes. Remember, all of us are lifelong teachers and lifelong learners. In your lifelong teacher role, work to develop a personal plan for helping others deal with technology-based changes. In your lifelong learner role, resolve to set a positive example of “keeping up” with the many new technologies that are just over the horizon.

Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications

You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.

Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.

Here are some examples of publications that might interest you:

20/20 vision for 2020 challenges. See

A tablet computer and connectivity for every student. See

Alan Kay. See

Artificial Intelligence. See

Moursund, D. (10/23/2012). In Math Education and Other Disciplines: Asking the “Right” Researchable Questions. IAE Blog. Retrieved 8/16/2014 from

Predictions about the future of computer technology. See

Sylwester, R. and Moursund, D. (2012). Creating an appropriate 21st century education. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 4/5/2013 from

What the future is bringing us. See


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Sunday, 05 July 2020

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