Cell Phone Privacy Class Action Lawsuit News- 1/27/2012: Although cell phones and the Internet may seem to be relatively new technologies, both trace their history to the development of wired forms of telegraph and telephone, and wireless radio. Each of these technologies played its own part in altering concepts of time and space and blurring the boundaries between public and private communication in American culture. This chapter discusses how our legacy communication technologies contributed to cultural changes that also influenced time, space, and public and private behaviors and demonstrates how cell phones and the Internet assumed some of the cultural baggage of previous communication technologies. The social impact of the earlier technologies undoubtedly contributes to what people think about cell phones and the Internet today and about their impact on culture.
In 1876, when Alexander Graham Bell patented and began to demonstrate his “harmonic telegraph,” soon to be called the telephone, immigration from other countries and westward expansion were both under way. Most people still lived, worked, and died within ten miles of where they were born, but the United States was steeped in the industrial revolution, and railroads made it possible for types of industries to become established in specific locations. At first, telephones seemed strange and unnecessary, reinforcing the idea that innovation alone is not enough to create social change. Until individuals found a need for telephones, they remained an interesting novelty. In his book America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940, Claude S. Fischer discusses how telephone company salesmen attempted to cultivate different users. The first group to be targeted were businessmen, who were persuaded to use the telephone to be efficient, to save time, and to impress customers.12 Later, when the residential market was targeted, the same claims to improve efficient running ofthe household were a large part of the phone company’s efforts to entice women to use the telephone. Carolyn Marvin shows how the world of telephony quickly became commandeered by men who professed technological expertise and who considered women’s conversation frivolous. Men viewed women’s social communication as “gossip” and considered it a waste of time. “From a male perspective, the usual puzzles of communication between the sexes were exacerbated by technological codes that bound men but that women did not respect.”13 What became even more important was the number of new jobs that brought women from the privacy of the home into the public and to the office.
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What has the telephone done to us, or for us, in the hundred years of its existence? … It has saved lives by getting rapid word of illness, injury or famine from remote places. By joining with the elevator it has made possible—for better or worse—the multistory residence or office building.. .. Beyond a doubt it has crippled if not killed the ancient art of letter writing. It has made living alone possible for persons with normal social impulses; by so doing, it has played a role in one of the greatest social changes of this century, the breakup of the multigenerational household.
By the middle of the twentieth century, so many social changes had occurred that the telephone had become one of the instrumental tools for modern society. Along with changes in transportation, home entertainment, urban development and changes in labor, industry, and the family, telephones had gone from being a luxury to being considered a necessity for businesses and in the home. Phone books were published to list the names, numbers, and addresses of telephone subscribers, and seeing one’s name in print was not only a measure of status, but of pride. As the number of phone calls increased and telemarketers began to target homes, the use of the telephone for anything other than social speech or work began to raise questions of personal privacy. As more people requested their names be deleted from telephone books, publishers of the phone directories realized that there would be more money to be made by charging customers to have an unlisted number than to list them.
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Other technologies were also developed to help keep peace in the home and to increase efficiency in the office. Telephone answering machines, which had been around in a primitive form since the late 1930s, became fully functional for home and business uses in the late 1970s. Caller ID, voice mail, and other services began to be marketed to home users for purposes of controlling privacy. Businesses adopted these services, in part, to be responsive to callers, but also to avoid having to retain more employees to constantly cover outside calls. James Katz provides a far more thorough analysis of the impact of attempts to control privacy with additional telephone technologies in his book Connections.15 By 2001, the explosion of telemarketing had become such a big business that many citizens began to ask the government for protection from unwanted and annoying calls. In July 2003, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created a Do Not Call Registry that people could sign for, and it effectively prohibited commercial telephone solicitations to those people. Over 50 million people signed up by October 1, and new registrations continue.
Like many contemporary technologies, the cell phone also had a long history before it was commercially introduced in 1984. Various manufacturers and electronics companies attempted to develop portable, wireless telephones, but until Bell Labs effectively began to use a segment of the electromagnetic spectrum for efficiency by dividing the frequencies into “cells,” in 1947, wireless phones remained limited to special purposes and operated at relatively high cost. Cell phones are a result of the convergence of the telephone and the radio. The cellular telephone unit has a low-power radio transmitter that is extremely sophisticated and can sense where the caller is, in relation to the closest transmitter. The term “cell” refers to an area of coverage, usually about 10 square miles. When you move about with a cell phone, the transmitter in the phone senses when you are coming to the end of the “cell” and automatically shifts you into the next cell for continuous coverage
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