Yada, Yada, Yada

The first call from a mobile cell phone was made on this day in 1973 by Martin Cooper, head of the Motorola team that invented the device. The DynaTAC 8000X didn’t hit the marketplace for another decade — with a $4,000 retail price, for a phone requiring a ten-hour recharge after sixty minutes of use. But affordability, portability and ubiquity soon followed: there are now some 6 billion people with cell phones, significantly more than the number of people with working toilets, says a recent UN report.

The UN report hopes to focus attention on curable diseases. Maggie Jackson’s Distracted hopes to focus attention on “The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age,” our calling-texting-tweeting-clicking compulsions about to push us over the concentration cliff:

The waning of our powers of attention is occurring at such a rate and in so many areas of life that the erosion is reaching critical mass. We are on the verge of losing our capacity as a society for deep, sustained focus.

A number of recent books describe other doom-phone scenarios — they are giving us cancer, crashing our cars, destroying our families and relationships (or keeping us way to close to our families and relationships). But in The Great Indian Phone Book, Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey offer a case study of how the mobile phone has had a liberating and empowering impact on a nation struggling with poverty and caste:

Cheap mobile phones give poor people a device that improves their chances in a hard world. And in India, because of long-standing discrimination and structures of authority, the mobile has proved even more disruptive than elsewhere.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.