RT Cunningham


What Do You Call the Phone You Carry? Cell Phone, Smartphone or What?

phone I recently read an article on The Verge titled “First Click: Isn’t it time to drop the ‘smart’ from smartphone?” and their take on the smart phone thing didn’t impress me.

I’m not saying I disagree. I’m just saying it was much ado about nothing and very “millennial” of him (I know the author is much older, but it’s still just as much nonsense).

I’ll give you more substance without the nonsense, if you feel like following along.

The First Phone was the “Telephone”

Now, we can argue about what kind of telephone came first but is it really worth the effort? Before I was born, some people hand to crank a handle before connecting to an operator. My early years were with rotary telephones, both at home and in telephone booths.

Here’s the thing: We never called a telephone anything other than a “phone”. Everyone knew what we meant when we told a sister to answer it because it always seemed to be for her anyway.

Those types of phones matured from crank, to rotary, to push button and then to portable. Regardless, they’re now called “land lines”. Why? Because they (or their base units) are physically connected to telephone lines.

The First Mobile Phone was the Cell Phone

If you didn’t get to see the brick they called a cell phone when they first appeared, you can see a lot of the designs if you search for “original cell phone” with one of the major search engines. Why was it called that? Because it connected to a cell tower, just like most of them do today. The phones today, however, can be used without any real service – VoIP over Wi-Fi is being used more and more these days with services like Facebook’s Messenger, Skype, Viber and more services than I can remember offhand. All you need is an Internet connection and a Wi-Fi router.

Somewhere along the line, cell phones started being called mobile phones but it’s just six of one and a half-dozen of another. Some people still say cell phone. For the life of me, I’ve never heard anyone call any phone a smartphone.

A Brief Rundown

I guess it’s natural for people to inject words to clarify meanings, especially when in the written form. Here’s a short list:

Forgive me if I’ve missed one or two. It’s not something I’ve actively kept track of over the years.

Let’s Summarize This, Shall We?

If someone knocked on your door in 1968 and asked to use your phone, it meant coming inside and using your land line.

Today, a person won’t even knock on your door. They’ll just ask to use the phone you’re carrying (and probably with your face buried in one social network or another).

Today’s phones have liberated us and enslaved us all at the same time. When we used land lines, it wasn’t expected that we’d always be available. It was considered rude to call people when they were sleeping (or should be sleeping). Today, it seems we’re expected to be available 24 hours a day and never sleep.

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By RT Cunningham
September 9, 2016
Cell Phones

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