Asian Geographic

Distant Connection­s

Take a trip down memory lane as we recall these communicat­ion must-haves of yesteryear

- Text Rachel Kwek


Before mobile phones made it easy to call one another, people relied heavily on pagers to stay in contact. These personal radio devices allow users to receive messages broadcast on a specific telephone number and frequency over a special network of radio base stations. Every pager is assigned a specific phone number and radio frequency. When someone calls a pager owner, his pager will beep or vibrate and its LCD screen will show the callers phone number. This is how people used to find out who was trying to contact them. More advanced pagers can display the number and a short message or even transmit 10-second voice messages.

The Boston Police Department reportedly used the first pager-like system between 1921 to 1927. The device was later installed in patrol cars in 1928. Al Gross, whose other inventions include the walkie-talkie and CB radio, filed a patent for a pager-like device used by New York Citys Jewish Hospital starting in 1950. It wasnt till 1959 that Motorola made a similar device and coined the term pager. It went on to release a number of increasing­ly sophistica­ted devices in the 1970s. Motorolas Pageboy 1 released in 1974, is the first successful consumer pager. While it had no display and could not store messages, it was portable and notified the user that a message had been sent. There were 3.2 million pager users worldwide by 1980. At the time, pagers had a limited range and were mostly used for on-site communicat­ions such as that among medical workers in hospitals. The number of pager owners exploded after wide-area paging was invented in the 1980s; over 22 million pagers were in use by 1990 and this number had risen to 61 million by 1994. Today, though many companies have ceased paging services, pagers are still widely used in industries like healthcare and public safety, where reliable emergency communicat­ion is key.


SMS (short message service) was the predominan­t form of communicat­ion people used on their mobile phones before messaging apps gained popularity. Remember pressing the 1 key three times to get the letter c to show? In those days when each keypad button represente­d several letters, sending a text message involved repeatedly pressing keypad buttons to type the letters desired. Developed in 1984 by German engineer Friedhelm Hillebrand and his French colleague Bernard Ghillebaer­t, the messaging systems distinctiv­e feature is its maximum character limit of 160 characters (letters, numbers or symbols in the Latin alphabet) or 70 characters for other languages. British software engineer Neil Papworth typed and sent the first SMS message in 1992 on a computer as mobile phones then did not have keyboards.

These thick telephone books that comprise business and residentia­l numbers compiled in alphabetic­al order were a necessity for many up till the 1990s.

The simplicity of SMS and the fact that it works on any mobile phone that can send and receive signals made it universall­y popular in the 1990s and early 2000s. It has thus become common to find free SMS messages packaged as part of mobile phone plans. In 2012, Portio Research reported that 8.6 trillion SMS messages were being sent globally each year. The humble SMS message peaked at around this time before people moved to using smartphone messenging apps. While the medium isnt as popular as before, it is still used as a common marketing tool.

Phone Books

These thick telephone books that comprise business and residentia­l numbers compiled in alphabetic­al order were a necessity for many up till the 1990s. They date a long way back, with the very first classified telephone directory created by Reuben H. Donnelley in 1886. The iconic walking fingers logo that has become synonymous with these directorie­s was created by Henry Alexander, a well-known New England artist, in 1962 for New England Telephone Company, and it became the trademark of the companys yellow pages. As all the telcos were part of a regulated monopoly the AT&T Bell System in those days, telecommun­ications companies comprising the Bell System began implementi­ng the logo on their telephone directorie­s. Its let your fingers do the walking advertisin­g campaign that ran during the 1970s made the slogan well-known worldwide. Over the years, the term yellow pages has evolved to refer to phone directorie­s in various countries worldwide.

In Singapore, people used to pick up their free copies of Yellow Pages, which contain names, addresses and telephone numbers of companies in the country, and this informatio­n is organised by the type of business the companies are in. They would also get White Pages, a directory of names, addresses and telephone numbers of residents in the country who had landline connection­s. Global Yellow Pages, responsibl­e for the production of both directorie­s, distribute­d its last print directorie­s in Singapore in late 2017. Yell, which owns Yellow Pages in the UK, will distribute its final batch of its directorie­s this year. With the Internet making these iconic phone books obsolete, manually flipping through them to find contact numbers has become but a distant memory.

Physical Keypads

Unlike modern on-screen keyboards, old keypads had buttons one could actually press. Besides the nine number buttons, a typical keypad would have a call (green) button on the left and an end call (red) button on the right above the number buttons. In the middle of the two would be the scroll and selection button, which allows you to move the selection tool up, down or to the left or right. The row of three keys *, 0 and # below the number keys serve a range of purposes. Pressing 0 adds a space while pressing # allows you to switch between upper and lower cases. And to type a special character or punctuatio­n mark, you would have to press *. Unlike modern smartphone­s that lock and unlock at the touch of a finger, traditiona­l handsets required a series of steps. Locking it would require one to make as many as five menu selections, including the last step of turning the automatic keyguard on. Unlocking was simpler with the need to only select unlock and press *. ag

 ??  ?? Remember punching in messages using physical buttons on your mobile phone? Once upon a time, they were the default feature on mobile phones. Now, they are no more. ABOVE
Remember punching in messages using physical buttons on your mobile phone? Once upon a time, they were the default feature on mobile phones. Now, they are no more. ABOVE
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia