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Why do we still call them just “phones?”

I went out on a shopping/lunch expedition with my father today, and in the course of the journey, I got to use several functions of my new cell phone:

  1. Speed dial, to call my father easily from the car (while it was parked, don’t worry).
  2. Calculator, to compute miles per gallon when I filled the tank (again, don’t worry, since the Mythbusters showed us that cell phones pose no danger at gas stations).  My mileage has actually improved a bit, perhaps because of more driving on freeways and such.
  3. GPS mapping, when we got lost.  This one didn’t actually help, because it didn’t adequately distinguish between intersections and bridges crossing roads.  The good ol’ map book in the car was more helpful.  There’s a way to enter a destination and get directions, but I think they charge extra for that.
  4. Tip calculator, at lunch.  This was purely to show off my new toy; hopefully I won’t make a habit of relying on technology to do something I can do myself.

And with all that, at the end of the day I still had two bars left (out of three) on the charge display.  I guess that’s fairly good.

These multimedia devices we carry in our pockets have so many functions these days that it seems silly to keep calling them “phones.”  They’re really pocket computers.  The British term is better.  They call them “mobiles.”  Originally short for “mobile phone,” of course, but it nicely adapts to the mobile multimedia computing and telecommunication devices they’ve become.

In my original fiction (things I’ve written but not yet sold), I’ve taken to calling them “selfones,” i.e. “cell phone” merged with “self.”  My thinking was that the devices would increasingly become our primary interfaces with the world, eventually absorbing the role of identification device, credit card, every interaction we had with any other piece of technology, so that they’d kind of become an extension of the self.  But lately I’m rethinking that, since cellular phones have become so ubiquitous that we tend to call them just “phones” rather than “cell phones.”  So my prediction of “cell phone” being elided to “selfone” doesn’t really seem that likely now.  Maybe I should go with “mobile” instead.

As my father pointed out, though, they still don’t make the bed.

  1. Eli Berg-Maas
    April 8, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    I expect phone to become the official word for portable computer in fairly short order, with computer staying the generic term and PC or possibly terminal for desktop equivalents.

    Also, I’ve only just noticed the Recent Comments section. If these are pushing out recent, more relevant discussion I apologize. It looks like only comments on recent posts show up, but if that turns out not to be the case, I’ll stop commenting on the archives as frequently.

  2. April 8, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    I don’t get enough comments for it to matter, usually. And I’m not sure where you’re seeing a “Recent Comments” section. I only get that on my personal dashboard, and presumably you’re not reading that.

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