What’s a ro­tary dial phone, mum?

Our colum­nist gob­s­macks her kids with her story of grow­ing up with­out a mo­bile phone. Imag­ine!

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Opinion - star2@thes­tar.com.my Man­gai Balasegaram writes mostly on health, but also delves into any­thing on be­ing hu­man. She has worked with in­ter­na­tional pub­lic health bod­ies and has a Masters in pub­lic health. Man­gai Balasegaram

EV­ERY now and then, my kids ask me when they can have a mo­bile phone. I usu­ally try to fob off the ques­tion. “Not any­time soon!” I an­swer tartly. But I’ve some­how agreed that they can have one in their teens, which is prob­a­bly sooner than I’d like in my son’s case. He’s far too screen-crazy for my lik­ing, but then he’s also screen-savvy, which very much re­flects his gen­er­a­tion.

When I told my chil­dren that I never had my own phone as a teenager, they looked at me quizzi­cally. Most of the older teens that they know have their own phones; that’s the new nor­mal. And when I told them that, in fact, grow­ing up, my fam­ily only had one phone in the house, they looked at me as if I had just told them that I had grown up in a cave.

I re­mem­ber that ro­tary dial phone from my child­hood well. It was black and bulky, like the old Bake­lite phones, and at­tached to a ca­ble in the wall. When it was ka­put, peo­ple had to come over to our house and ac­tu­ally have a faceto-face con­ver­sa­tion to com­mu­ni­cate. In the mean­time, we’d go to our neigh­bours to use their phone.

We never had long phone calls grow­ing up. My fa­ther was a sur­geon, so we had to keep con­ver­sa­tions short in case the hos­pi­tal needed to call. When they did call, my fa­ther would be off in a shot to the Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal in Kuala Lumpur, a stone’s throw from our home.

In my early days at The Star ,in the 1990s, we still used dial phones where you had to curve your fig­ure around a dial for each num­ber. There was no re­dial but­ton. It was frus­trat­ing call­ing gov­ern­ment ser­vants who were not an­swer­ing their phones or per­pet­u­ally busy. My fin­ger ac­tu­ally got tired from di­al­ing. It seems bizarre to think of it now.

It’s amaz­ing how mo­bile phones have quickly be­come part of our culture. It wasn’t so very long ago that hardly any­one had one. Con­sider: the first Ap­ple iPhone was only re­leased a decade ago, cre­at­ing a stir with its design of mostly screen.

The first mo­bile phone was pro­duced in 1973. An en­gi­neer work­ing for Mo­torola, Martin Cooper, thought it would be a good idea to have a phone peo­ple could carry around with them. His first pro­to­type phone weighed more than a kilo, took 10 hours to charge, and had a bat­tery life of just 35 min­utes. In 1983, Mo­torala’s Dy­naTAC went on sale for al­most US$4,000.

My fa­ther was one of the early ones to get a mo­bile phone in Malaysia, in the late 1990s. He had just re­tired from gov­ern­ment ser­vice and gone into pri­vate prac­tice, and he needed to stay con­nected to the hos­pi­tal. So he bought a Mo­torola phone for a whop­ping RM9,000. It was a huge, beastly thing – very solid and heavy. It could take up half a small hand­bag.

I’m some­what nos­tal­gic about my first phone, that trusty, user-friendly Nokia, but rel­ish the con­ve­niences of my cur­rent Mi phone. The phones of to­mor­row will prob­a­bly make our cur­rent phones look clumsy and awk­ward. I read re­cently that bend­able or fold­able phones are not very far away. Per­haps we might have some­thing like a bracelet that we could just wrap around our fore­arms when we’re not us­ing them. And we might be able to beam out the screen onto any wall. So our “screen” could be any­where, any size. Re­searchers are work­ing on pro­duc­ing phones that charge bet­ter. It is, af­ter all, a lit­tle back­ward to have a phone that you have to charge ev­ery day! Among the de­signs that they’re work­ing on are phones that charge with body move­ment, body heat, or sun­light, as well as a phone that charges in 30 sec­onds. They could def­i­nitely make phones more en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly as well. The num­ber of phones ly­ing in dumps, leach­ing toxic ma­te­ri­als into the earth, is ter­ri­ble.

An­other tech­nol­ogy that is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated is hav­ing phones read our brains. Re­ally. Ev­ery thought that oc­curs in our brain has an elec­tri­cal sig­nal. So it is pos­si­ble. I find that re­ally quite scary.

As it is, the in­va­sion of pri­vacy from so­cial me­dia al­ready feels too much. I re­ally don’t need to be up­dated on so many de­tails on peo­ple’s lives. Aside from my col­umn, I’m not big into per­sonal posts.

And to share all my thoughts? No thanks. I draw the line at keep­ing that pri­vate space closed in my life. My thoughts are about the only thing that are truly mine, and even when they’re not so up­beat, they’re still un­mis­tak­ably mine, and pleas­antly pri­vate.

The num­ber of phones ly­ing in dumps, leach­ing toxic ma­te­ri­als into the earth, is ter­ri­ble.

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