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Mobile phones make calls - and change our lives.

Mobile phones make calls - and change our lives

Today's young people can hardly believe there was once a time when most homes in the neighbourhood didn't have a telephone. Because of the scarcity of cabling' even those who did have a phone might have had to share with another household on what was called a "party line". Which meant that if they were using their phone you couldn't use yours until they were through.

If' like the majority' you didn't have a phone and there was an emergency - the need to call an ambulance or a doctor perhaps - you would rush round and knock on the door of the person fortunate enough to have a landline and ask to use theirs. Or' for a rare social call' you would make the trek to a public call box which might be a half mile or so down the street. But when a telephone did ring' everyone's ears would prick up because' more than likely' it would be something important.

These days there are more phones than people - not because everyone has one but that others have several. And' says Steven Watts in volume 19 issue 4 of Managing Information' it's consigning those phone boxes - and other aspects of everyday life - to the history books. Last year' for instance' only three per cent of adults across the UK used a payphone. Fewer people send letters' preferring e-mails' texts or calls' all of which they can make on their smartphones. Remember telex' the fax machine and the Walkman portable cassette player? Remember when people used a map or a street plan rather than rely on their mobile phone's GPS to find their way?

Who knows' we may soon be asking "Do you remember money?" As Steven Watts says: "While not quite consigned to history' could the smartphone be eyeing up the credit card or even physical change as its next casualty? For some time now people have been able to pay for things' such as make charity donations or pay for parking in car parks' but that's almost immature when compared to Barclays Pingit. It's the first mobile app to launch in the UK that allows payments of between £1 and £300 to be made."

And what about the digital camera' that ever-so-clever little gadget which stopped us using film and impatiently waiting for our prints to be developed? Chances are that the camera which now comes as an integral part of your phone will be better than the digital camera you bought a year or so ago.

The ubiquitous smartphone might also be consigning to history something we'd quite like to be rid of. That's ignorance about health and hygiene in countries which were once beyond the reach of modern technology.

As Kishore Mahbubani notes in the September 2012 issue of Finance and Development' we can call almost any part of the world and' thanks to internet services such as Skype' often at no cost. People across the globe have become interconnected at a level which could never have been imagined. Mahbubani says technology is generating global convergence. He says a small solar-powered battery and a tiny computer have already done this for remote African and Indian villages. This "big bang" of information is also improving human lives. As more people learned about vaccinations' the proportion of the world's infants vaccinated against diphtheria' whooping cough and tetanus climbed from one-fifth to nearly four-fifths between 1970 and 2006.

While people in developing nations might be getting potentially life-saving information via their phones' in the developed world you are just as likely to be signed up to a website alerting you to deals on everything from a pizza to a weekend break in hotel' from a bee-keeping class to a cut-price Android tablet. Sites such as Groupon' co-founded in 2008 by chief executive officer Andrew Mason. However' the world of technology moves at an alarming pace.

In the July 16th issue of Bloomsberg Business Week' Lauren Etter and Douglas MacMillan say that' whereas Groupon was once described as the "fastest growing company ever"' it has been on a downward trend lately thanks partly to competition from players such as Google' Yelp' Amazon.com and Living Social.

However' Mason remains optimistic and reminds people that local commerce is huge with hundreds of billions of dollars a year spent in US restaurants and stores. He sees Main Street as one of the last remaining areas of the economy not yet consumed by the internet. But will the competition or other new ways of accessing offers eventually consume Groupon?