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Who Doesn’t Have A Cell Phone?

July 9, 2014

My friend Jeff was a nerd. And in fifth grade, being a nerd wasn’t a cool thing. But, Jeff really didn’t care. Because I was his friend he let me play with his newest toy.

(Photo Credit: Texas Instruments)

In 1976 this was the coolest watch on the planet. And Jeff had one. I remember him telling me it cost over $100. And I believed him too. Right up until I started researching this story. They were about $20. But in 1976, that was a lot of money for a 10 year old.

Three years later, Jeff’s watch wasn’t unique. . .everyone had one. In fact, it became natural to assume that your friends had digital watches. We used to love for people to ask us the time:

Do you know what time it is?

It’s exactly 10:57.

You could have just said ‘about 11 o’clock.”

Today, of course watches have largely fallen out of favor. Everyone uses their phone. Unless they want to make a fashion statement. I have a friend at work who wears a large watch. It’s stuck at 5:12. The batteries died and he never bothered to get them replaced. He has a cell phone.


A couple weeks ago I was in Southern Utah with my son and his scout troop hiking through “the narrows” in Zion’s National Park. The narrows is an incredible slot canyon. At times it’s only a few feet wide, with sheer walls on both sides that are hundreds of feet high. Not a place you want to be trapped in a flash flood.

I’m old school. I got a map and took a compass. The compass was overkill. The canyon goes exactly two directions: Up and back. But, the map was somewhat useful. We were looking for a branching canyon and the map helped us estimate how far away it was.


According to the map, it looks like it’s about another mile or so.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could download the map into your phone?


Well, then you wouldn’t need the paper map. You could just follow your phone.

I thought that sounded like a terrible idea. Why would I want to give up the experience of the map to stare at a phone screen?

But, I got to thinking. Looking around I realized that everyone had a phone. Everyone except me, I’d left mine at the camp on purpose. The Narrows hike is through a river. And yet, there were people with waterproof cases, or waterproof GoPro devices, or dry boxes. Everyone was busy taking pictures and videos of the river, the walls, each other, the water, themselves.

Is having a phone a “natural” condition? By that I mean are we to the point where if someone doesn’t have a mobile phone we think them odd? We expect everyone to have a phone, just as we used to expect everyone to have a watch?

And what does it say about me that I leave my phone every chance I get? Am I getting old? Yes, but I’m not sure that’s the cause.

I consider a phone as a temporary device. I’m constantly conscious that it has a limited battery life. I consider taking it with me a imposition. But, for many people. . .most people in the US, I think, it’s just always there. Want a picture? Use your phone. You don’t even have to ask IF someone has a phone, you can simply assume they do.

It’s a natural progression, I guess. It also got me thinking about what will come next. Will we all adopt google glasses and simply expect that everyone else is recording everything we say?

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children and one grandchild.

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