20 years of innovation, and my life has changed…

The Nokia 8110, the "banana" phone. Credit: Nokia

In 1996 I received the banana. 

That was the nickname of Nokia 8110, thanks to its curved shape that, indeed, might remind a banana. The nickname, I think, was bestowed by someone who disagreed with this “innovation” in design. It was a cell phone, for godsake, why would Nokia want to diverge from the serious brick like shape used so far? Cell phones were tools, for selected few who could afford and really need them, their shape was function driven, no frills. Even Nokia, I remember, tried to justify the audacity of the design by claiming the curved shape put the mike closer to the mouth thus ensuring better voice quality.  The difference in distance was less than 5mm, I doubt it made any difference in quality…

My oldest son, he was 17 at that time, didn’t have a cell phone, and never asked for one. None of his friends had a cell phone and he felt no need to own one. The use of SMS was, to overstate it, marginal. The average number of SMS per cell phone per month was 0.4 in 1995.

Fast forward to 2016. My four kids (no longer kids) couldn’t imagine a life without a cell phone but what strikes me most, if I think about it, is that my mother, 90 years old this year, just called me overwhelmed with concern having received a message from the telecom Operator telling her that unless the credit card (mine) onto which the bill was linked, was promptly updated they had to discontinue the service since the card expired.

Being online has been for me, and I think for many many others, the biggest change I experienced in my daily life. This has affected and is affecting a significant part of my day and of the way I do my things through the day.

It is not just about always, anywhere, being reachable or to send/receive messages in a variety of ways – SMS are becoming marginal as 20 years ago, displaced by Whatsapp, Tweets, Instagram, Facebook, Flickr and the like.

The cell phone (now we call it smart phone) has become an integral part of (my) life. An extension of my senses and of my brain.

If I can’t read a sign on a far away building I snap a photo and look at its enlargement on my phone screen. If I don’t understand a text, like a menu in a Tokyo restaurant, I look at it via my phone using Wordlens and I see the Kanji characters replaced by more familiar latin characters that give me the Italian translation from Japanese, still keeping the photo of the plate visible. To pay the check I authorize the transaction on my phone through fingerprint recognition and the receipt goes straight to my secretary, added to the expense list she manages.

Going to the metro station reminds me of Hansel’s white pebbles (Brother Grimm fable). I am not following pebbles, rather the vibration of my phone in my shirt pocket telling me when it is time to turn (courtesy of Here) while Withings counts the steps and calories consumed correlating them to the weight info provided by my electronic scale every time I weigh (curious, Withings notifies me if someone it does not recognize has used the scale, that the weight is 61.7 Kg – that should be my wife Laura that refused to register on the scale, hence she’s not recognized and every time she uses the scale I get the message, as the official scale owner).

The trip on the metro is quite long, usual in Tokyo, and I use the time listening to a book I downloaded from Amazon Kindle store. It is read to me by my phone with a voice and intonation that are not perfect, but quite acceptable. The rumble of the train is softened to a negligible whistle by the noise suppression headset. I still remember the first times I used them on a plane and the feeling that something was wrong: no engine noise, not a good news if you are flying 40,000 foot above the ocean.

A sentence in the book I am listening triggers an idea that may be worth including in one of the blogs I write, one each day – it has become a habit like having breakfast every morning: Hi Siri, send me this message “…”. Back at the hotel I’ll pick up the idea from the mail, useful given my elderly age that comes packaged with forgetfulness…

Before going to bed I look at myself with the cell phone, not for a selfie, too old for that, but to monitor and record the heart beat and breathing rate, thanks to VitalSigns.  Over the last years I built a personal health record that is started to be used by my doctor (till not long ago he was just intrigued but didn’t trust it).

My kids, particularly the two youngest ones, communicate through a mechanism that I would define as “presence in the cyberspace”. Several times a day I find their photos, sometimes with a voice comment attached, capturing what they are experiencing, seeing, doing. These are not communications directed to me. They happen in a shared space of which I am part. For sure they have other shared spaces I am not part of…

When I “open” a photo this gets copied and becomes part of my film rolls. These are synchronized by Amazon (11€ per year to manage my 50,000+ photos containing my last 15 years memories looks like a bargain). Thanks to this storage in the cyberspace (cloud) I can look at my photos on any screen provided it has an Internet connection. And to look for a specific photo, not so easy given the huge number of them, I can speak up (as long as this is tagged, but this should no longer be a limitation by the end of this decade once I will have access to Google quantum computers –dWave- that will be able to extract the semantics from the image and hence find the photo: the one where I am on the beach, I seem to remember it was on a trip in Asia, not sure though, but I remember there was a crab on the beach close to where I was standing…); or I could search for it by pointing to a similar one.

My wife is sleeping by my side, switching on the television would bother her. I use the cell phone, with Netflix, to look at the documentary I was watching few days ago when I was home in Turin, starting from the very point I left it. The screen is small, but it is ok since I am looking at it from just 20cm away. The screen resolution is such that I am not perceiving any pixel, the image is equivalent to the one I would perceive on a last 4k television model.

Time to sleep, but first let me activate the alarm clock on my phone. And I get to sleep thinking that throughout the day I didn’t make a single call on my phone. 

Yet, I could no longer imagine living without it.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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