Thursday, April 07, 2011

Where is "there?"

Martin Cooper, General Manager of Motorola's Communications Division.

The cell phone seems so obvious, it’s easy to forget how totally revolutionary an invention it was less than 40 years ago.

The idea that phone numbers shouldn’t be tethered to a place, but to a person, was pioneered by Martin Cooper, the general manager of Motorola’s communications division. Thirty-eight years ago this month, Cooper made the first cell phone call — to the land line of his chief competitor at Bell Labs — while walking down a New York City street.

The phone he used weighed 2½ pounds. It was so big that it was looked more like a shoe or a brick. Cooper would joke to friends and colleagues that the calls from that phone would have to be short in duration. After all, who had the strength to hold it up for very long?

Before April 3, 1973, people could say, “Don’t bother calling. I won’t be there.” and it meant something. But as CNN eloquently put it recently: “Martin Cooper altered forever the definition of ‘there.’ It became a place in motion — a place that was always accessible.”

Now 82 years old, Cooper still works in communications. And he carries his cell phone with him everywhere … just not the 1973 model.

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