I was riding as a passenger in a car up I-5 from Olympia to Seattle last week and since I’m usually driving, and don’t get much time as a passenger, It was kind of a treat. But while riding yesterday, on my way to another “failed dot-com” bankruptcy liquidation auction to check out the bargain computer and network gear, I couldn’t help but notice just how *pervasive* instant “location ignorant” mobile phone communications has become.
As I thought about the myriad soccer moms, pumpkin farmers, tradesman, surveyors, army rangers, goth chicks, homeboys, sales weasels, state welfare workers, and the numerous others I saw engaged in conversation with a disembodied voice emanating alternatively from their earbud speakers, hands-free units, and diverse miniature low-power handheld mobiles, I started to flashback and reminisce about the early days of cellular phone communications.
I thought about how just out of college in 1987, after having worked for a stint as a session worker for the Washington State Legislature, and a brief interlude with the heavily mismanaged and corrupt First Interstate Bank security services, working as a rent-a-cop bank guard in the main alarm center at the Rainier Bank HQ in Rainier Tower in downtown Seattle, I had a job working at the headquarters of USWest NewVector Group, a wholly owned baby-bell subsidiary that oversaw the USWest Cellular and USWest Paging brand names that had been newly created by Judge Harold Greene with his breakup decree splitting the former Ma Bell (AT&T) into the different Bell Operating Companies (BOC). This job had me dealing with wireless technology in it’s infancy, on the early fringes of sweeping technological changes that were now affecting what I was seeing on this normal uneventful trip to Seattle for business.
My memories faded back to the summer and fall and winter of 1987. I thought about the long days driving my car from Olympia to Bellevue and back each day to work. I thought of the head accountant at USWest Paging, who after discovering my technical prowess and usefulness, had me hired on as a “full time temporary”, and shared me with the fixed asset department of the USWest Cellular. I remember after being hired on as a “regular” employee, and being given one of those Motorola Brick Phones, which I carried in pocket. I also thought about the Motorola 6000, a top of the line mobile phone, which was later installed in my 1973 Volkswagen Superbeetle, and how because it was a phone that usually cost around $4,500 (or $450 monthly on a two-year lease) that I would get pulled over by cops and questioned, usually with some bullshit excuse, including more than once when the cop told me that as I was passing he couldn’t see my “garbage bag, which is required by law”, when questioned “Why have you pulled me over officer?” You see, I was (and still am) pretty protective of my civil and natural rights, and always insist on being granted full constitutional protection from unwarranted Police harassment.
I thought about those hazy (inside the car, not out) two-hour commutes I used to make, and how they were relaxing and infuriating at the same time. I thought about Day’s Grocery Quickymart, in Pacific along the West Valley HWY, and how back in 1987, before the Micro-Brewery craze, they had 101 different varieties of bottled beer, mostly imports, which I could pick up and chug down as I stopped in discreet places by the roadside to allow traffic to thin out.
I thought about the pace of technological pace back then, and how we all thought things were actually changing fast. Of course, since then we’ve been through three different generations of Wireless Phone Technologies. I laugh when I think of how people would have reacted if someone had told them that *ALL* wireless phones in the future would be handheld, and that they would send computerized pictures to other phones, or act as video conferencing systems. This was 1987, only a year after Microsoft had gone public, and the only time anybody said Microsoft back then, it was always followed or preceded by the words “IBM DOS”.
People would laugh now, at the price plans and coverage of the Cellular phone system of 1987, of course. If you drove more than 10 miles from your home city, it was almost a $1.00 a minute to roam, in addition to airtime fees, and long distance fees, which were substantial (~$0.25 – $0.60) as well.
Well, as the title of this entry says, Plus ça Change, Plus C’est la même chose.