Everybody knows the first words spoken on a telephone call — Alexander Graham Bell’s simple demand “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” April marked the 40th anniversary of the first cell-phone call, which was quite different in tone. Two research teams had been competing to bring the first real consumer cell phone to market, and the first mobile call was placed by Motorola engineer Marty Cooper to his chief rival, Joel Engel of Bell Labs. “Joel, this is Marty,” he said. “I’m calling you from a cell phone.” In other words: “You lose, suckers.”
It took nearly a century to get from Alexander Graham Bell’s conversation to Marty Cooper’s, even though the basic technologies of mobile phones — telephony and radio — date from the 19th century. Conversely, it took only 66 years for mankind to go from the Wright brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk to Neil Armstrong’s stroll on the moon. Technology does not move in predictable ways.