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The Cellphone: the History and Technology of the Gadget that Changed the World Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Apr 16th, 2019

Technology has changed the way people go about everyday activities such as writing, cooking, cleaning, and the means by which they move from one place to another among others. Sometimes, these changes occur at blurring speed and people can hardly get time to acquaint themselves fully with each phase before another one replaces the earlier one.

This aspect is partly the reason why most people can effectively use many of the available gadgets, but do not know what they contain let alone the intricacies behind their functions. Communication has also evolved in tune with these technological changes. Various gadgets are developed to replace others while some are simply modified for efficiency and to suit the changing environment.

Therefore, it is important at times to stop and revisit the history behind the making of some of the technological inventions and learn how they work. The cellular phone, fondly known as the cellphone, is one such gadget that has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts thanks to the continuous advancements in technology.

It has revolutionized the way people interact and made communication much easier than it was a few decades ago. However, its history and functionality is often not a source of discussion. This paper reviews the book The cellphone: the history and technology of the gadget that changed the world by Guy Klemens.

This book provides a great avenue for anyone wishing to enhance his or her knowledge on the history and the technology behind this phenomenal invention. The author gives a detailed description of the inside of a cell phone, how it works, how it came to being, coupled with why it was developed.

He also acknowledges the effect that the device has on the society, economy, health, and legal structures both in the United States and across the world. The book is more than a narrative. Although mostly technical, it is a well-balanced, detailed, and informative book. The author, Guy Klemens, is an engineer based in the United States.

Klemens, in conjunction with other authors, has published eight articles in addition to this book. He has considerable expertise in this field, which explains the detailed nature of this book as well as the technical nature displayed in his other works.

The book has two hundred and fifteen (215) pages that comprise an introduction, twelve chapters, a reference list, a glossary, a bibliography, and an index page. It targets a general audience looking to learn about the history and technology of the modern variety of cellular phones.

Therefore, it does not include cordless mobile phones with wireless handsets, such as those used to connect rooms in most homes and offices (Klemens, 2009, p.2). However, this book is better suited for people with prior knowledge of the dynamics of a cellphone.

Although some of the terms used seem considerably technical, given the author’s background, the author has gone a step further to include a three-page glossary explaining some of the words that are too technical to understand for most people, thus making it easier for his target audience to understand, relate to, and even apply the knowledge imparted (Klemens, 2009, pp.209-211).

The book is thus recommendable for the target audience. The book has more of a technical scope with historical elements and thus does not exactly fall in the genre of history books. As mentioned before, it uses many technical terms hence falls more appropriately in the scientific genre. The first chapter, for instance, which talks about the bandwidth, consists of many mathematical illustrations.

By getting more to a comprehensive analysis on the subject than an overview, the book has many pages dedicated to each individual topic as opposed to writing a few pages discussing many topics.

This aspect clearly brings out the author’s eye for detail. For instance, he dedicates twenty-one pages on the first chapter to discuss the bandwidth (Klemens, 2010, pp.5-26), twenty-two pages to define the makings of digital technology (pp.76-102) and twenty-six pages to explain the implementation of cellphones (pp.143-169). Klemens’ keenness on detail is also evident in his mention of the person responsible for the discovery of the telephone.

He explains that even though the world recognizes Alexander Graham Bell for the discovery, there were others, like Antonio Meucci, who demonstrated a working telephone in 1871, and thus they had done it earlier, but failed to register their patents in time. Meucci could not raise the required $200 to register a patent, but he did file a caveat in 1971. Elisha Gray, who was a physicist, had also filed a caveat on the same day that Bell applied for a patent, albeit a few hours later on February 14, 1976.

The authorities concerned thus awarded the patent to Bell. The author goes ahead to add that the House of Representatives, in 2002, went ahead and passed a resolution recognizing Antonio Meucci’s contribution (Klemens, 2010, p.41). The only downside to this much detail is that the author ends up using too lots of data and not enough explanation.

Klemens is of the view that the cellphone is an absolute necessity and that even though it has some undesirable qualities like being an annoyance at times, it is something that most people ought to have. He illustrates this assertion by using an example of a woman selling fish at the Congo River in the beginning of the book.

The woman is uneducated and thus cannot read or write, but she communicates with her customers using her cellphone, which she uses to take orders and make deliveries accordingly. She keeps her fish in the river so that they remain fresh, as she has no refrigerator. This illustration not only serves to show how important the cellphone is according to Klemens, but also it shows how cellphones rank compared to other technological advancements such as the refrigerator( Klemens, 2010, p.1).

It is also worth noting that the author reflects a biased opinion regarding developing countries. He is of the opinion that developing countries have very little technology, which is evident in his excerpt of the uneducated woman given the fact that she has no refrigerator and his statement with regard to the issue.

Klemens (2010) notes, “Unlike many technological advances, the cellphone has not bypassed the developing world…the cellphone is too vital for developing countries not to adopt” (p.1). Although he dates this event to have happened in 2005, he should have considered editing it to reflect the progression of development that has occurred since then.

The author’s arrangement of the book creates a steady flow of ideas that culminates into the final product, viz. the cellphone. In his approach, he dissects the cellphone into the various components that make it functional and gives the history of each of these components individually before showing how they all converge to create the basic cellular phone. He then takes the reader through the various transformations that lead to the currents version of the phone.

For instance, when he discusses the radio, he documents the discovery of electric fields, separately discusses the discovery of the magnetic field, and finally connects these two and proceeds in a discussion of electromagnetic waves (Klemens, 2010, p.27).

Using this systematic approach, the reader is in a position to understand and link ideas in a better way for the author meets his goal of ensuring that the reader understands the history as well as the technological progress or each element and how this aspect thus contributes to the history of the final product, the cellphone.

The author sets out a few main points in the book. First, he indicates that the cellphone came up as a result of several different inventions being developed and reaching the peak of their advancement at around the same time. This scenario provided the perfect opportunity in time or the development of the phone, which is thus a product of the convergence of different pieces of technology developed along different paths.

For instance, the miniaturization of circuits, the development of the battery, and the display unit of the phone all occurred at different time, but reached their peak at around the same time, thus converging and providing elements needed for the assembly of the gadget. Although the amount of detail in the text is necessary for optimal understanding of the subject, it also makes it easy for the reader to lose sight of the main subject of discussion, as there are too many sub-topics under each expounded idea.

For instance, the topic about the history of the radio is separated into subtopics comprising separate discussions about the history of “the electric field, the magnetic field, and the electromagnetic field” (Klemens, 2010, p.34) before finally culminating into a discussion about the introduction of the radio.

Another point worth noting is the author’s diversity of thought. Klemens deemed fit to focus on the historical transition of the society and the economy to the point where the need of the society for a better mode of communication led to the demand of the product and consequently the need to produce it. He notes that without this transformation, the invention of the phone and its development into what it is currently would never have occured.

This element is an important point as the history of the society does indeed contribute greatly to the nature and frequency of new inventions. He further clarifies this assertion by giving the illustration of the current version of the cellphone taken back to the 1970s when the car telephone was invented. People would not really have any use for it, as what they needed at the time was the car telephone.

In proving his thesis, the author uses data gathered from other sources and hypothetical examples. Although this aspect makes it easier to relate to the work, it also makes it appear as a collection of various other works from different authors in the past with a similar viewpoint to his on the various subjects discussed rather than his original work.

The prose of the text is very legible and appropriate for the author’s target audience. Unlike most books that usually focus on one perspective regarding their items of discussion, Klemens uses a multi dimensional approach by interpreting history with technology and actually being able to link the two spectrums. A good example is Albert Abramson on the history of mathematics and Carl Boyer on the history of Mathematics.

Based on the content and presentation of information in the book, it is better suited for people with some knowledge of the sciences and calculations relating to physics, rather than a general audience as intended by the author.

Reading the book requires the utmost concentration in order to keep track with the author as it has several lengthy subtopics under each topic presented in one chapter. It is worth noting that the book is very informative and that the author’s perspective of connecting societal history with the history of the device in question is refreshingly unique.

The author also goes out of his way to include a glossary to help better understand the text, which is very useful, especially for readers with little knowledge on the field of science.

The author’s approach of discussing the histories of the various components that make up the cellphone instead of discussing its history as a single unit of technology goes a long way in better understanding the technological concepts that culminate into the functionality of the device. It also helps the reader to link various disparate discoveries and understand how they function both independently and when joined as a single unit.

The use of illustrations in the book makes it an enjoyable read and eases the understanding of concepts set forth by the author.

Reference

Klemens, G. (2010). The Cellphone: The History and Technology of the Gadget That Changed the World. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Cellphone: the History and Technology of the Gadget that Changed the World." April 16, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-cellphone-the-history-and-technology-of-the-gadget-that-changed-the-world/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Cellphone: the History and Technology of the Gadget that Changed the World'. 16 April.

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