Martin Cooper, Gene Roddenberry, and ‘the brick’

Martin Cooper, Gene Roddenberry, and ‘the brick’

A few weeks ago it was the 40th anniversary of the first mobile phone call ever made. The call was made by Martin Cooper, a Motorola employee to a Dr Joel S. Engel, the head of Bell Labs and a competitor of his. The call was made on a phone weighing approximately 2.5 pounds and was 9 inches long. Subsequently the phone was labeled ‘the brick’; its actual name was the DynaTAC 8000x. It took more than a decade to develop the phone and it was made available to the public for sale in 1983, retailing at $3,995 (£2,603). Talk time was around 30 minutes, despite taking 10 hours to fully charge.

It was the communicator from Star Trek that inspired him to begin developing the mobile phone. So you can thank Gene Roddenberry for the mobile phone in a way. Prior to when the first mobile phone call was made, mobile phones were available but were confined to cars. Martin Cooper’s phone call (or vision, if you will) signaled a new wave of developments in mobile phone technology, leading to the smart phones of today. Originally the first wave of smart phones were a combo of a PDA (personal digital assistant) and a mobile phone. Now they have become a lot more high tech with multiple functions and the recent developments in app technology have made them more popular.

Since then a myriad of advancements have taken place, shaping how we communicate with one another for good. We no longer have the ‘brick-like’ devices of Cooper’s day but sleek handheld mobile devices like the iPhone 5 that weigh around 0.25 pounds and charge for much less time. It’s now Samsung and Apple dominating the mobile phone market, with both companies trying to outdo one another. However, the biggest question here is how has mobile technology changed the way we communicate and interact with one another?

First of all, it has definitely made keeping in touch with friends, family and anyone else much more easier. And with the advent of social media, mobile phones and websites like Facebook and Twitter seem to go hand in hand. A study by Flurry found that social networking came second place to gaming as to time spent on our phones. It is clear that social media is definitely here to stay as our mobile phones make it much easier to keep abreast of what people are up to via these websites.

Secondly, with a mobile phone or in this case a smart phone, you can almost do everything you would normally do on a computer; edit documents on Microsoft Office, send emails, watch videos. For many, going a day or even a couple of hours without their phone seems near impossible. So it is quite hard to imagine life 40 years ago without something we consider so basic and take for granted now. So next time you use yours (and, according to a recent study, this will probably be within the next six minutes) take a minute to think about the man who brought you the privilege, Martin Cooper. And Gene Roddenbery.

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One Response to “Martin Cooper, Gene Roddenberry, and ‘the brick’”

  1. Robert Gilchrist Huenemann

    Apr 20. 2013

    In recent months, I have seen several accounts in the press discussing Martin Cooper’s role in the development of the cell phone. I worked for Martin at Motorola Communications and Industrial Electronics (C&IE) from November 1959 to June 1960. Motorola was developing the latest in a series of two way radio products of ever smaller size. These developments were part of an evolutionary process that led eventually to the cell phone. I was fresh out of school and my contributions were of no particular significance.

    But let me tell you about something I observed on a daily basis at Motorola’s plant in Chicago. Motorola C&IE had two black employees. They tended an incinerator on the opposite side of the parking lot from the plant. They were not allowed into the building. Not to take a break or eat lunch. Not to use the rest rooms. Not to warm up in the middle of Chicago’s sub zero winters. And my fellow employees would take their breaks at the second floor windows overlooking that parking lot, and they would make insulting, racist comments about the two black employees.

    I went to human relations, and in the most non-confrontational way that I could muster I asked why Motorola did not employ on the basis of ability, without regard to race. And at my six month review, I was terminated.

    You don’t have to take my word concerning Motorola’s employment policies. In September of 1980, Motorola agreed to pay up to $10 million in back pay to some 11,000 blacks who were denied jobs over a seven-year period and to institute a $5 million affirmative action program, according to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    I have a question for Martin Cooper. Marty, what did you ever do to challenge the blatant, toxic racial discrimination at Motorola?

    Robert Gilchrist Huenemann, M.S.E.E.

    120 Harbern Way

    Hollister, CA 95023-9708

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