The Communication Evolution

It has only been slightly more than a decade ago when the only form of communication available was via the hard phone — you know, those clunky set with copper wires attached. Every outing has to be meticulously planned and coordinated way before the actual date. There were times — or should I say most of the time — when people came late; but you have to be knocked down by a car, or infected by some deadly viruses, just so that friends would not question your integrity in the future.

For the young ones who thought we still used pigeon postal express and telegram for communications in the last decade of the 20th century, we had a far more sophisticated device called a pager. Yes, it’s the little gadget that goes beep whenever someone messages you his or her phone number. While the first-generation pagers provided convenience on the receiving end, the person who made the page still had to guard beside the hard phone for the call back. Talk about the inequitable distribution of communication power.

The year was 1997. Alphanumeric pagers were in vogue. The great thing about them is that they allow people to send text messages via pagers, similar to how SMS works. At the same time, fellow VS buddies and I had just started a new chapter in our lives in VJC — new school, new friends and new challenges.

Most importantly, we were suddenly in close proximity to the opposite sex, a situation that completely changed the dynamics of our brotherhood. Where we used to stay overnight in school exploring the rooftops, or cycled to nearby East Coast Park to catch unsuspecting couples performing in their newspaper-covered cars, now macho athletes turned Don Juan’s cluttered around the only hard phone available in the Council Room sending love notes to their crushes on their pagers. That left a couple of us who refused to grow up to continue indulging ourselves in boyish endeavours.


The poster boy for that generation of alphanumeric pagers was without a doubt the Motorola Memo Jazz. Almost everyone had one, those without one wanted one. I still have mine as keepsake in relatively good condition, and it wouldn’t look out of place beside today’s dazzling array of mobile devices. Good designs are timeless art pieces.

Mobile phones were also getting more affordable and compact as we approached the new millennium. No one carried the gigantic Motorola DynaTAC 8000X that was priced in the stratospheric level. How expensive is expensive? Adjusting its price for inflation, you can now buy a Mac PowerBook, with spare cash for an iPod for your listening pleasure. How huge is huge? The battery pack alone is bulky enough to be wielded as a blunt weapon to cause massive pain and suffering to the unsuspecting victim, and the phone probably weighs more than the PowerBook and iPod combined.

This was the time when Nokia were gaining prominence as the leading brand of mobile phones. I opted for a Nokia 5110 instead of the more stylish Nokia 6110, the only reason being cost. Nokia 5110 did have one feature that Nokia 6110 lacked – the faceplate was interchangeable. Not that I was fanatical about the colourful faceplates though; they were cheesy-looking even back then.

There were two reasons why pagers remained popular despite the fact that mobile phone prices were now within the means of an average JC student. Free incoming calls were chargeable, and SMS was still a novelty. Hence 1998 was like a transition period for me. Burdened with a pager in one pocket and a mobile phone in another, I was walking bowlegged like a cowboy for the most part of the year. But there wasn’t any doubt when my pager contract was due for renewal in 2000; I retired the one and only pager I ever owned — my beloved Motorola Memo Jazz — and let my Nokia 5110 fly solo.


Over the next seven years, I have had three mobile phones — Nokia 5110, Nokia 8210, and my current Sony Ericsson T610. My favourite is Nokia 8210 - another stylish design which wouldn’t look out of place even today. Sure, it doesn’t have as many functions as today’s 3G phones; but let’s face it, 90 percent of the time you use your mobile phone for three basic functions — voice calls, SMS, and address book — the rest are just cool features to brag about over lunch.

Mobile phones have since become an integral part of our lives. We have unprecedented convenience in communication; everyone is within reach anywhere anytime. But like most things, the good comes with the bad in one package; the convenience can easily be abused. Friends will often call at the last minute to cancel an appointment, leaving those who honour their words to wait in vain; control freaks, who now have the ultimate tracking tool, can hound their victims to no end. That said, I don’t think anyone would want to go back to the dark ages where we had to sit around at home to wait for that important call.

My communication evolution entered into a new phase when I was handed with a brand new Blackberry 8707g about two weeks ago. As much as I hate the idea of being always contactable by clients and colleagues, my recent experience in Jakarta made me realised I needed one, when I had to rush back to the office just to send an important email before heading to the airport for my return flight to Singapore. Since my current job requires me to be constantly on the road, history will keep repeating itself until I join the dark side. I am already afflicted by the email addiction ever since I got my first email account about a decade ago, and having a Blackberry simply aggravates my condition; it is almost a joy to see new messages populating my inbox.

And did I mention you can install Yahoo! Messenger in your Blackberry too?

20 November 2006 · Technology

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