The earliest I recall watching a mobile phone in action was in 1991.
Rob Carter, then CEO of the Housing Corporation of New Zealand, addressed a conference of company trainers at a campus in Nelson. He'd been communicating directly by phone through most of his introduction by the presiding manager.
Carter’s mobile phone was the size of a slender builder's brick. It had an antenna that could have doubled as a child’s fishing rod and was heavy enough to inflict a painful injury if dropped on someone's foot.
By the end of the 90s the mobile phone, more commonly known as the cell phone or cell, was small enough to get lost in a handbag.
One morning, while I was travelling to work in an almost full bus, a mobile phone went off in a woman's handbag. I could hear the device honking even though I sat several seats away. The woman searched frantically through her handbag as the honking got louder, the sound having been muffled by a copious collection of accoutrements.
She eventually found the phone and slapped it to her ear, shouting as if to communicate with a pedestrian in the street. Several passengers jumped in unison at the abruptness of her bellow.
Everyone, including the bus driver, was soon giggling as they listened in on one half of an intimate conversation. An elderly gent, sitting a few seats in front, turned and scowled in the direction of the banshee-like screeching, blinking at the ear-shattering outbursts.
When the conversation was over, she snapped shut her mobile, leaned forward and shouted, “Are you alright sir?” By this time the whole bus was well captivated by the commotion.
The gent turned very slowly, stared matter-of-factly at the woman for a few seconds, then spoke in a low, exquisitely clear voice.
“I didn’t think you’d need a phone with a voice like that!”
The whole bus erupted uproariously. I could feel the glow from her ears as the poor, hapless woman cowered in embarrassment.
At the beginning of this century, mobiles weren’t quite as sleek as they are now, but they could still fit in your pocket. My first mobile was a Christmas present from my son, Jack. It was a Philips, a bit bulkier than most, but remarkably robust.
One day I was running for a bus in town when my mobile dropped from my pocket, bounced off the kerb and cascaded its contents into the gutter. Instantly, a bus ran over the battery and halted at the bus-stop.
In desperation I collected all the bits I could see, including the battery, and grudgingly mounted the bus. After a few minutes spent squeezing the device back together again, I pushed home the battery. Immediately the display prompted me to reset the digital clock and the mobile made contact with the nearest cellular transmitter. I used that device for several years before it died.
So what for the future?
Ten years earlier, if I had suggested to someone that one day we’d have devices slightly bigger than a box of matches, that could be used to send text messages across the globe, I’d have been told that I was out of my tree.
Yet in 2001, while travelling by bus to work in Wellington, New Zealand, I was able to have regular text conversations with my daughter, Gemma, who lived in Harpenden in England. Today I can access the Internet with a mobile and update my blog.
It is predicted in The Future Of The Internet III that mobile devices will be commonly used to access the Internet in 2020. With the recent development towards a graphene chip, it is reasonable to think that future mobile devices will offer far more computing power and flexibility, enabling Internet access with a wide range of applications.
The predictions are that voice recognition will also be a standard capability of the mobile. With any luck, my computer dream might become a reality - before 2020 I hope!