Pondering the telephone

1000028_industrial_designOn realizing the vast extent of my ignorance, I decided to go back to the basics and see what I could understand. So, from the beginning:

What is a telephone? Wikipedia tells me,

"The telephone is a telecommunications device which is used to transmit and receive sound (most commonly voice and speech) across distance. Most telephones operate through transmission of electric signals over a complex telephone network which allows almost any phone user to communicate with almost any other."

However, a mobile phone is not the same as a telephone.

A mobile or cellular telephone (commonly, "mobile phone" or "cell phone") is a long-range, portable electronic device used for mobile communication. In addition to the standard voice function of a telephone, current mobile phones can support many additional services such as SMS for text messaging, email, packet switching for access to the Internet, and MMS for sending and receiving photos and video. Most current mobile phones connect to a cellular network of base stations (cell sites), which is in turn interconnected to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) (the exception are satellite phones).

What, then, is a computer? Wiki again,

A computer is a machine for manipulating data according to a list of instructions. Computers take numerous physical forms. […] Society has come to recognize personal computers and their portable equivalent, the laptop computer, as icons of the information age; they are what most people think of as "a computer". However, the most common form of computer in use today is by far the embedded computer. Embedded computers are small, simple devices that are often used to control other devices—for example, they may be found in machines ranging from fighter aircraft to industrial robots, digital cameras, and even children’s toys.

So if I understand all of this correctly, a mobile  phone is a telephone but a telephone is not a mobile or cellphone.  Both contain embedded computers but they are not considered a computer. A computer is not a telephone or a mobile  phone or cellular phone.  [shakes head to clear it, considers changing name and address]

Stepping back from all this technical stuff that I don’t know anything about, and discussing it as though with my mom, another third world woman from a developing nation, albeit not from the BoP, I’d say to her –

A telephone allows you to talk to someone anywhere in world and you can hear their voice. From your location.

A mobile phone lets you talk to someone anywhere in the world AND it lets you access information in the form of text or images and sound and lets you take a photograph that you can send to someone or print out and it lets you record sound and moving images and it lets you pay for parking, transfer funds or pay for a haircut, from anywhere at all.

Interestingly enough,  I can use my desktop computer with a broadband connection as it is now, to talk to my mom, pay my rent, transfer funds, access information in the form sound, text, moving images, transmit such information AND use a whole bunch of other applications besides to do everything from finite element analysis to animation graphics to playing real time strategy games in a rich, visual environment. From my location. Yes I can take my laptop with me.

Now this conversation isn’t going towards convergence, that’s obvious… its an attempt to understand the WHY behind the WHAT – which is, the mobile has been a demostrable engine for social and economic development for those who have nothing. Let’s see where this musing takes me… I make no promises.


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