MOBILE MADNESS: A History Of Talking, Texting, Sexting, & On-The-Go Amenities Turned Necessities

Posted on March 19, 2010

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The Evolution Of Mobile Phones

This history is epitomized three weeks ago when myself, A.E., and Zagbert are high, cruising to Hungry Howies, and I’m having a jolly good time upon realizing my ability to watch porn—for free—via my mobile phone.

We’re eventually seated waiting for our $6.50 worth of cheesy pepperoni goodness. I’m still watching some nameless performer perform up and down and all around working another nameless performer’s love rod. Still watching, in the middle of a pizza parlor. None of the other patrons or employees seem to care. Their reverberating groans and moans of pleasure are drowned out by our own the second the first slice of pizza makes contact with our lips.

Two weeks before that. I’m in the bathroom of the office I work at—from the stall to my right I hear patpatpat-puh-patpatpat—a pattering of buttons mashed on a Blackberry. That sound, the puttering and pattering of chubby fingers pushing buttons—you hear that? It’s the sound of work stripping a man of his last great solitary pleasure. This particular slave to the grind has decided that bowel movements are just such a waste of time.

It’s the sound of technology cracking its whip, bending us to its will, subverting us—claiming your attention like a needy child tugging at his mother’s shirt. MINE MINE MINE. ME ME ME. NOW NOW NOW.*

Oh, technology.

Two nights ago, Zig and Zag are expected at this party can’t figure out where the hostess lives. It’s cold out; temperature gauged below freezing. The complex they’re at is more of a series of townhouses, each one identical and small and made charming through coat after coat of white paint to hide the bloodstains.

“I’m freezing my fucking tits off, man, where does she live?” Zig says.

“Uh,” says Zag. “I don’t know… Fuck man, I don’t have her number. Whawhaz the apartment number again?”

“Seven…one-two, righ’?” Zig shivers.

“No idea… damn, I’m thinkin’ we try around a bit more and then bail.”

“You have your cell phone, right?”

“Yeah, but I don’t have her number.”

“Why don’t you just look it up on Facebook?” suggests Zig. Zag hasn’t had a cell phone for too long, much less one with online capabilities. Zag’s face lights up. One can practically envision a lightbulb silhouette bursting into life above his head. Within seconds, Zagbert accesses Facebook Mobile, retrieves her address.

“It says she’s in seven two-four…” he says, unsure—“but where is that?” He misses the large steel digits “724” right above his head.

What can be expected from a couple of guys working on a book entitled Encycloweedia Cannabicca.

In an earlier article I made reference to a quote by Joseph Priestly in which he surmised, “the more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” Considering that this was a couple hundred years before Alexander Graham Bell patented the first modern telephone, it doesn’t take a visionary to know one when one sees it.

Statistics: Because who the fuck are you to argue with them?

By the end of 2007, those of us privileged enough to live in the developed world wouldn’t be caught dead without a cell strapped to our head, as the Science above demonstrates. Ten years earlier, we had a use for phone books other than rolling papers—in this Stone Age of communications, we actually had to remember numbers—there were no built-in ‘Contacts’ into our land phones, on which caller ID was an amenity.

How the times have changed.

In a world where we nonchalantly utilize advanced communications technologies to the point of dependence, I find myself of the opinion that we ought to put down the text-based syndication for a minute and actually reflect on how we got to this point—the point where the prospect of delivering a message from one device to another from across the globe almost instantaneously is no longer seen as a technological marvel. After all, less than a hundred years ago  still used carrier pigeons for the same purpose, and yet our cultural memory dims (as can be expected from a culture that glorifies ignorance) when taking into account the broad scope of advancements since then.

My Question: How exactly did mobile usage become so de rigueur in contemporary times, and what does that say about us a collective?

Once a phenomenon gets its own road signs, you know we take that shit seriously.

Time Travel Time!

What exactly am I suggesting when I bring up Joe Priestly? Let’s go back to another era, one you may or may not have a succinct memory of: your childhood. Picture yourself at play in your backyard. At some point you probably played some sort of military game with your buddies. Picture yourself, NERF gun poised, crawling through the dirt and grit like you were in the jungles of Ding Dang Dong (or a cave in Derkaderkastan if you were a kid in the post-9/11 world, in which case your parents probably don’t want you reading this—go back to your porn): you’ve just run out of ammo and face certain death. What do you do? You message your buddy on your Walkie Talkie and tell him to tell your wife that you love her. Your Walkie Talkie. The two-way precursor to the future three-g mobile madness.

Walkie Talkie

"Can you hear me now? Over. Can... can you hear me? Over. Now? Over. Oh, you can. Over. Wait, oh- oh- you can't? Over."

This was invented in 1940. Hitler wasn’t even in the American vernacular yet.

How the times have changed.

1947. The car phone blows everyone’s freakin’ mind, even though it is a luxury mostly restricted to the wealthy.

Ten years later. 1957. In Soviet Russia, cell phones you.** Leonid Kupriyanovich develops the first real mobile phone, the LK-1. Apparently everything developed by the Soviets has to sound like a missile. The phone has more range than any of the other mobile/car phones available at the time and is smaller (and made even more compact a year later).

1973. Dr. Martin Cooper develops and demonstrates the prototype for what will become the first of the First Generation mobile telecommunication devices. The Cell Phone.

Now We Can Talk

1984. Cell Phone History writes:

The first cellular phones to be created were very large and bulky. This made them difficult to carry around. The first cell phone came to the market in 1984 from Motorola and weighed 2 pounds. It was a DynaTac 8000X which was selling for $3, 995. A few years later, in 1991, the Motorola MicroTac Lite was created which cost $1,000.

Again, history shows us that technological innovations, even ones now in wide use, always get used up by rich yuppie assholes before Average Joe Plumber can get his greasy pud-pulling paws on it.

At this point in history we’re now beyond the first generation of mobile phones (1G) and into the second generation (2G)—where starting in 1993 we begin to see the rudiments of SMS, soon to be known colloquially as text messaging, which gains popularity as the years go on.

Now We Can Text

While the first and second generations of cell phones laid the groundwork for the concept, things didn’t get really interesting until after 2001 when Japan launched the first of the modern incarnation of the cellular phone: 3G. Three Jee. One of those little techie buzzwords you hear on commercials all the time that has no real-world relevance to the laypeople.

This is where things get interesting— where fans get shit on.

We all remember seeing cell phones shrink from giant military bricks to tiny plastic-looking flip-screen buzzers to the streamlined flat-screen touch-screen bad-asses we have today. In that length of time, we’ve witnessed a few fundamental things surrounding intrapersonal communications change.

Now you can articulate your thoughts, condensed into a 160 character block of text, and share, forward, modify them to your hearts content—whenever and wherever you want.

A hundred and sixty characters is not much for the more loquacious (read: dem folks wit da big werds) among us, thus leading to the creation of Textese— the:

[…] abbreviations and slang most commonly used due to the necessary brevity of mobile phone text messaging, though its use is common on the Internet, including e-mail and instant messaging. It can be likened to a rebus, which uses pictures and single letters, or numbers to represent whole words (e.g, “i ❤ u” which uses the pictogram of a heart for “love”, and the letter “u” replaces “you”).

For words which have no common abbreviation, users most commonly remove the vowels from a word, and the reader is forced to interpret a string of consonants by re-adding the vowels (e.g., “dictionary” becomes “dctnry”, or “keyboard” becomes “kybrd”). The reader must interpret the abbreviated words depending on the context in which it is used, as there are many examples of words or phrases which use the same abbreviations (e.g., “lol” could mean “laugh out loud” or “lots of love”, and “cryn” could mean “crayon” or “crying”). So if someone says “ttyl, lol” they probably mean “talk to you later, lots of love” not “talk to you later, laugh out loud”; and if someone says “omg, lol” they probably mean “oh my god, laugh out loud” not “oh my god, lots of love”. Context is key when interpreting txtese, and it is precisely this shortfall which critics cite as a reason not to use it.

The advent of predictive text input and smartphones featuring full QWERTY keyboards may contribute to a reduction in its use. This type of language does not always obey or follow standard grammar; furthermore, the words used in the writing system are not found in standard dictionaries or recognized by language academies.

In the late 16th century, William Shakespeare wrote through Juliet Capulet, “My bounty is as deep as the sea/My love as deep; the more I give to thee/The more I have, for both are infinite.”

Today, a 16 year old Juliet Connell texts her boyfriend, “ILY bebe <3”

How the times have changed. Time itself changes the fabric of common language; the flowery and lofty diction of the Second Millennium has in the past ten years seen itself being picked at and taken apart to the point where universal noncompliance with grammar rules shows a common attitude of indifference toward the rigid dogma outlined by Strunk & White.

Receive a text and cannot come up with a response? Don’t feel comfortable responding? Just don’t feel like it right now?

Disconnecting yourself from that responsibility is now as easy as saying “I didn’t get your text, sorry” when confronted with it later; the ease in that disconnection, that serial pattern of excuses—now as easy as

Case in point.

1                                                            2                                                            3

Let us examine the demography of text messaging with data collected from TextingAdvice.Com.






If anyone ever had the sneaking suspicion that perhaps this whole “texting” nonsense was just a fad for the young, the naive, the blind leading the blind, it would appear that their suspicions would be confirmed here in the first poll, finding that he vast majority of texters use SMS to communicate with friends (and to flirt) rather than for family and business. The second and third results cross-analyzed bear a more obvious and direct correlative connection between age and texting volume; predictably, the youngest age demographic (those aged 10-20) finds itself the leader in sending texts, between sending out the most texts per person on a regular basis and having most texters fall into that demographic. This is all in spite of the fact that the vast majority of people aged 10-20 do not pay for their own cell phone privileges.

And then we have to remember that this is an online poll, and that most online users are also in that same demographic, bringing into question the objective validity*** of the results. For the detractors, included below is an excerpt from Paul Wise’s recent article on the same subject.

At the beginning of 2009 72.2% of cell phone owners had a text messaging plan on their phone (Blackberry cell phones or whatever.) That equates to 203 million Americans with text plans. In the past year the increase of text use was 107%. And 2.3 billion text messages are sent each day, making it a part of most Americans’ lives. If you compare texts to calls, per month, the numbers are somewhat shocking. There are, on average, 357 texts in one month versus 204 phone calls. Of course we must consider that one conversation via phone call can go much farther than one text message unless maybe you use Blackberry cell phones. So while a phone call can establish who, what, where, when and why, a text might only cover one or two of those things.

Which now brings me to this question: If that is true, that more can be communicated in a two-minute conversation than in a series of back and forth text messages, why do it? Are we too impersonal to talk to someone on the phone , and remember that in the not too distant past a phone call was considered impersonal. Now we can’t even do that even though it is many times more convenient. Yes, sometimes a text that simply says “yes” or “no” is more effective but sometimes a simple question blossoms into something more complex and yet we continue texting rather than making the call. But considering smart phones like Blackberry Cell Phones are making typing easier, maybe it isn’t so weird.

My Response: The statistical data presented is pretty undeniable at this point. You don’t have to go far to see someone strolling about, head hung low, buried in their own little texting world. On campuses, in traffic, on the job—texting is everywhere. QWERTY-enabled keypads have made texting easier, with a greater allowance for more extrapolation in messages. Having said that, texting is still promoted for on-the-go, brief bits of information, which is why so many texts can be sent in such short time, and that QWERTY-enabled phones allow for more character, rather than enhance the conversation by encouraging deeper thoughts to be communicated through text, they still limit it by encouraging more texting to begin with when one could have the same conversation face-to-face or on the phone.

* Yes, I'm aware Dustin Hoffman said something along those lines in Hook. How's that for an obscure cultural reference?
** Yeah, lame joke. Just roll with it.
*** If such a thing exists.

(Updated 4/11/2010) Addendum & Final Analysis:

There’s an elephant in the room on the subject of mobile phones and their role in postmodernity that I’ve yet to discuss, and that would be the fairly recent (say, past five or ten years) trend of Sexting.

Sex(ually explicit messages) + Texting = Sexting.

Got it?

The annals of history are chock-full of vulgarity and sexual perversion, though more often than not monuments representing lust and obscenity have been placed on the back-burner of most history class curriculum thanks to anti-sex revisionism and censorship. As such most of my readers have probably not seen the Egyptian and Arabic precursors to sexting, for example. Time has never ceased to have had its share of individuals putting their best efforts toward showing the world what they look like naked.

Having listened to the moral panic and the ensuing rhetoric caused as the phenomena achieves nationwide attention (thanks to the legal cases that have arisen due to sexting), one would assume that no one had ever used communications media to exchange graphic text or images before. And if you look at the wildly divergent statistics on sexting, it seems that no one has yet found a means to properly gauge the psychography behind sexting either. What is certain is that it does happen, and it happens a lot, and chances are if you’re the kind of person who reads my work you’ve probably had a little experience in the trend yourself.

From a functionalist perspective I feel that as we enter the fourth generation of mobile phones, sexting represents the symbiotic relationship between the younger generations’ liberated sexual identity and the ease of interacting with others even when not physically present which fosters feelings of security and dampens fear of predation. This lends itself towards lessened inhibition and when coupled with how instantaneous messaging is, the urge to send a sexually explicit message (either to flirt, tease, or torment) is often too much to resist for young people, especially young women insecure about their bodies who thrive on the attention.

As cases involving minors being forced to register as sex offenders due to having exchanged explicit messages via texts, efforts by lawmakers have been initiated to diminish the penalties for sexting between consenting minors. This suggests that perhaps sexting itself is not perceived as a social problem due to obscenity, but rather due to the privacy issues that surround it.

Anything you send through a text, through the Internet, will likely forever exist in cyberspace.

Often something meant to be shared privately winds up in the wrong hands. When that happens, jobs are lost, people are prosecuted—lives are ruined. Every text message you have ever sent is stored in the databases of your wireless provider, where should reasonable doubt ever befall you, no hesitation will be taken to turn your texts over to the authorities as evidence.

Ultimately the best way to avoid having messages you don’t want to share with the whole world shared with the whole world is to use common sense–only send explicit messages to those you absolutely trust, or don’t send them at all.

Because of the prevalence of sexting, the non-profit Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication has responded with this website.

In my mind we are all but sexual animals forever bound to our carnal desires; the invasion/incorporation/integration of advanced technology into our daily lives has allowed those desires to manifest themselves in shocking, embarrassing snips of nip slips broadcast to the whole world. Technology has given us opportunities we’ve never had before—naturally one of the first things we’d do with our new vistas of connectivity is expose ourselves to our friends, to the wireless providers, to the world.

Mobile Madness: A History Of Talking, Texting, Sexting, & On-The-Go Amenities Turned Necessities.

This history is epitomized three weeks ago when myself, A.E., and Zagbert are high, cruising to Hungry Howies, and I’m having a jolly good time upon realizing my ability to watch porn—for free—via my mobile phone.

We’re eventually seated waiting for our $6.50 worth of cheesy pepperoni goodness. I’m still watching some nameless performer perform up and down and all around working another nameless performer’s love rod. Still watching, in the middle of a pizza parlor. None of the other patrons or employees seem to care. Their reverberating groans and moans of pleasure are drowned out by our own the second the first slice of pizza makes contact with our lips.

Two weeks before that, I’m in the bathroom of the office I work at—from the stall to my right I hear patpatpat-puh-patpatpat—a pattering of buttons mashed on a Blackberry. That sound, the puttering and pattering of chubby fingers pushing buttons—you hear that? It’s the sound of work stripping a man of his last great solitary pleasure. This particular slave to the grind has decided that it’s just such a waste of time to relax and move a bowel.

It’s the sound of technology cracking its whip, bending us to its will, subverting us—claiming your attention like a needy child tugging at his mother’s shirt. MINE MINE MINE. ME ME ME. NOW NOW NOW.

Oh, technology.

Two nights ago, Zig and Zag are expected at this party can’t figure out where the hostess lives. It’s cold out; temperature gauged below freezing. The complex they’re at is more of a series of townhouses, each one identical and small and made charming through coat after coat of white paint to hide the bloodstains.

“I’m freezing my fucking tits off, man, where does she live?” Zig says.

“Uh,” says Zag. “I don’t know… Fuck man, I don’t have her number. Whawhaz the apartment number again?”

“Seven…one-two, righ’?” Zig shivers.

“No idea… damn, I’m thinkin’ we try around a bit more and then bail.”

“You have your cell phone, right?”

“Yeah, but I don’t have her number.”

“Why don’t you just look it up on Facebook?” suggests Zig. Zag hasn’t had a cell phone for too long, much less one with online capabilities. Zag’s face lights up. One can practically envision a lightbulb silhouette bursting into life above his head. Within seconds, Zagbert accesses Facebook Mobile, retrieves her address.

“It says she’s in seven two-four…” he says, unsure—“but where is that?” He misses the large steel digits “724” right above his head.

What can be expected from a couple of guys working on a book entitled “Encycloweedia Cannibicca.”

In an earlier article I made reference to a quote by Joseph Priestly in which he surmised, “the more complex our means of communication, the less we communicate.” Considering that this was a couple hundred years before Alexander Graham Bell patented the first modern telephone, it doesn’t take a visionary to know one when one sees it.

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