If I were the brains behind a revolutionary invention that would reshape the world as we know it, I’d brag about it to everyone, but not before rubbing it in the face of my fiercest competitor.
And that’s almost exactly what Martin “Marty” Copper, inventor of the cell phone, did when he created the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, the world’s first ever handheld portable telephone.
It was 1973 and Marty was walking through the streets of New York as journalists faithfully watched him make the first handheld mobile phone call to none other than AT&T’s cellular network engineer and chief nemesis in the cellular race, Joel Engel. Marty revealed to us that when Joel picked up there was silence at the other end of the line, “I suspected he was gritting his teeth,” Marty says with a light-hearted smile and a grain of cheekiness.
After that moment, our way of communicating as a society—from butt-dials to GIF texts—would never be the same again.
The World Health Organization once described cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic” but that hasn’t hindered cell phones from overtaking our planet’s total population; making Marty’s legendary creation a hallmark of modern man’s innovation akin to that of the wheel.
The cell phone was mainly born out of a dissatisfaction with the constraints of the car phone. Early on, Marty and his associates at Motorola knew the future of telephony lied in mobility. Up until 1973, mobile cellular telephony was tethered to vehicles. Placing and receiving calls from a car was a game-changer at the time but Marty disliked the idea of having to be in a car in order to make a call on-the-go. “Freedom means you can talk anywhere,” he says.
The forefather of mobile communications hasn’t stopped looking forward. His vision of future cell phones range from personal servers implanted in our bodies, to artificial intelligence and the obsolescence of apps. At one point in our interview, Marty breaks the fourth wall, addressing our cameras directly: “Instead of us looking for the app, the app ought to find us,” he says with a glint of eureka in his eyes.
As we celebrated his past innovation and joked about today’s relentless mobile connectivity, it was clear that 86-year-old Marty Cooper had a zest for the future that was undeniable. After all, that’s where we’ll spend the rest of our lives, in the future, probably hunched over our cellphones.