Decades

Our relationship to technology has changed a lot over time.

Storytelling doesn't have to follow a linear timeline. But here's a walk through the history of the mobile phone in chronological order.

Photo: NBC/NBCUniversal via Getty Images Illustration: TTWW

Explore

Return of the dumbphone

Luddite teens hold their vintage flip phones in a circle.

The "dumbphone" or feature phone is a simpler form of mobile phone, and it's becoming popular again. A return to early 2000s technology, unlike smartphones, dumbphones...

Cobalt mining and conflict in the Congo

An artisanal miner holds a cobalt stone at the Shabara artisanal mine in the DRC.

The exploitation of cobalt for mobile phone batteries in the Congo has been associated with conflict and human rights abuses, highlighting the ethical concerns in the mobile...

Doomscrolling

Animated gif of cartoon hands scrolling through a cellphone on fire.

"Doomscrolling" refers to the behavior of continuously scrolling through negative, distressing, or alarming news, even though the content may amplify feelings of fear,...

Indigenous rights to wireless frequencies

Spectrum sovereignty advocate Darrah Blackwater works to install broadband equipment for Native communities during the pandemic.

"Spectrum sovereignty" advocates for Indigenous peoples' rights to control wireless communication frequencies on their lands. Governments traditionally sell rights to...

"Rip and replace" program targets Huawei & ZTE infrastructure

Worker shows Huawei Technologies equipment is still in place at United Wireless Communications in Dodge City, Kansas.

Various countries, led by the U.S., express concerns about Huawei and ZTE's ties to the Chinese government, leading to bans or restrictions on the company's 5G tech and...

"Hey Siri, I'm getting pulled over"

Screenshot of the iOS Siri interface showing the shortcut voice command "Hey Siri, I'm getting pulled over."

The "Hey Siri, I'm getting pulled over" shortcut was introduced for iPhones. Activated by voice command, it discreetly records police interactions, sends a location alert to...

Tech Wont Build It and #NoTechForICE

Image of protesters in New York holding signs that say "No Tech for ICE."

The tech worker labor movement rallied around these hashtags, which signal a growing awareness and activism around the ethical use of technology, especially in contexts that...

Apple slows down older phones in 'batterygate'

Image of a person holding their iPhone plugged in to charge with the battery drain notification displayed on the phone.

Apple acknowledges that they slow down older iPhones through software updates. This acknowledgment reignites discussions about planned obsolescence, product longevity, and...

Pokémon Go

A densely packed crowd of young people look at their phones to capture Pokémon in a hotspot in the UK.

Pokémon Go's augmented reality mobile game brought virtual and physical worlds together, showcasing the potential of mobile gaming and location-based experiences. The game...

Cell phone subscriptions surpass human population

Graph depicting the rate of mobile phone subscriptions surpassing the global population.

By 2015 there were more cell phones in use than people on Earth according to United Nations International Telecommunication Union Statistics. And by 2022, there were more...

Black Lives Matter

Protesters deploy a "Black Lives Matter" banner near the White House during a demonstration against racism and police brutality, in Washington, DC, on June 6, 2020.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a political action committee, a social movement, a slogan, and a Twitter hashtag. Organizers use smartphones to document police brutality...

Digital Right to Repair Coalition forms

Person wearing gloves removes a cracked screen from a phone.

Advocates for the right to repair mobile devices are pushing for legislation that would allow consumers to repair their devices independently. The Right to Repair movement...

Rise of encrypted messaging apps

Signal app, a cross-platform encrypted messaging service developed by the Signal Foundation and Messenger, displayed on a smartphone with Whatsapp and Telegram.

In the wake of the Snowden revelations, encrypted messaging apps have evolved from niche tools for privacy-conscious individuals to mainstream platforms integral to everyday...

Year of the selfie

"Selfie" became the Oxford Dictionary's word of the year. Selfies, or self-portraits taken with mobile phones, became a global phenomenon, influencing pop culture and social...

Labor protests at FoxConn smartphone manufacturing plants

Image of female chinese workers on the FoxConn assembly line.

FoxConn workers iPhone manufacturing facilities in Zhengzhou held walkouts on three separate days to protest working conditions at the plant. Foxconn is a large manufacturer...

BART blocks mobile networks to prevent protests

Photo of crowds of people at a BART station, including protesters grasping the roof of the train car, being pulled down by people in safety vests.

Authorities for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) blocked wireless signals in San Francisco stations to prevent protests. Demonstrators had planned to stop trains from running...

Arab Spring

A boy leading chants in Bahrain in Peter Snowdon’s 2014 film “The Uprising,” based on YouTube videos uploaded by protesters during the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring was a series of protests and revolutions that started in 2010 in the Arab world. It began in Tunisia and spread to countries like Egypt, Libya, and Syria....

Rise of the gig economy

Members rally during a California Gig Workers Union demonstration on October 12, 2022, in San Francisco. They are holding protest signs about labor protections for gig work.

Mobile apps enabled temporary, flexible jobs. The entire process, from finding a job, accepting it, completing it, to getting paid, often takes place through the mobile app.

iPhone released

Apple’s first iPhone ad features a supercut from TV shows and movies saying, “Hello,” like Dustin Hoffman, Marilyn Monroe, and Will Ferrell. “Hello” first ran on February 25, 2007, during the Oscars.

The release of the iPhone in 2007 revolutionized the smartphone setting a new standard and changing how we interact with technology. Steve Jobs famously described the iPhone...

M-Pesa enables mobile payment economy in Kenya

Customers make money transfers at an M-Pesa stall in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2011.

M-Pesa is a virtual banking system that uses a SIM card to provide transaction services. The system allows users to deposit, transfer, and withdraw funds using their mobile...

Rise of cyberbullying

Photo of a young person hanging their head, holding a mobile phone, swarmed by harassing text messages.

Cyberbullying has escalated as more people connect online, affecting many, especially youths. Persistent, invasive, and often anonymous, this form of harassment can occur...

Infinite scroll invented

Mock up of Shakespeare infinite scrolling on an iPhone. The fabric of the text extends beyond the screen in a pile of fabric.

Infinite scroll is a design technique used where content continuously loads as the user scrolls down the page or screen. Popular on social media platforms like Instagram and...

Flash mobs

Capture of the Macy's 'love rug' flash mob, with organizers and many participants examining the rug in question.

Popular in the mid-2000s, flash mobs are sudden gatherings of people, often for entertainment or artistic purposes. Organizers usually told participants when and where to...

BlackBerry 5810 released

Image of a BlackBerry 5810 with the application screen options including calendars, email, and phone calls.

RIM unveiled the BlackBerry 5810 as its first smartphone. It was marketed as a “breakthrough in wireless convergence that delivers email, phone, SMS, browser, and organizer...

Patriot Act passed

Political cartoon featuring Uncle Sam weighing the benefits of privacy and security.

The Patriot Act, hastily passed after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, was a law in the United States. It granted the government increased surveillance powers to investigate and...

September 11th (9/11) attacks

Memorials: Mobile phones and other communication devices found in the rubble from the September 11 attacks in 2011 on the World Trade Center are displayed as part of a new exhibit in Washington D.C.

When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, cell phones played a vital role. People trapped in the buildings, passengers on hijacked planes, and...

“Thumb tribe” emerges in Japan

Illustration depicts woman reading a novel on her flip phone.

The "thumb tribe" or "thumb generation" refers to the tech-savvy youth who grew up using mobile phones with touchscreens, relying on their thumbs for texting and navigating...

Trans engineer democratizes chip design

Lynn Conway holding a copy of her VLSI publication.

Fired from IBM after disclosing her gender transition, Lynn Conway went on to help democratize chip design at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the “VLSI revolution.” Very...

First mobile phone call

Martin Cooper makes a historic call on on 6th Avenue in New York City, April 3, 1973.

Did you know the first mobile phone call was a troll? In 1973, Martin Cooper, an engineer at Motorola, used his prototype of the DynaTAC 8000x (the "brick phone") to call...

First car phone call

An engineer demonstrates a car phone five months before the historic first call on a competing company’s commercial mobile telephone service in 1946.

AT&T's Bell System introduces the Mobile Telephone Service was introduced. The first MTS call was made in 1946 in St. Louis, Missouri. The equipment weighed eighty pounds,...

Explore Collections

Tell Your Story

Participate here
  • Becky Russell
  • *
  • Chelsey Petty-Dale
  • *
  • Cody Brooks
  • *
  • Willow Idlewild
  • *
  • Eli Pariser
  • *
  • Emily Best
  • *
  • Jasmine Sun
  • *
  • Jim Remsik
  • *
  • Coraline Ada Ehmke
  • *
  • Kris Boustedt
  • *
  • Laura Kalbag
  • *
  • Reuben Johnson
  • *
  • Sara M. Watson
  • *
  • SaVance Ford
  • *
  • Natalya Dell
  • *
  • Sherri Johnson
  • *
  • Xiaowei Wang
  • *
  • Becky Russell
  • *
  • Chelsey Petty-Dale
  • *
  • Cody Brooks
  • *
  • Willow Idlewild
  • *
  • Eli Pariser
  • *
  • Emily Best
  • *
  • Jasmine Sun
  • *
  • Jim Remsik
  • *
  • Coraline Ada Ehmke
  • *
  • Kris Boustedt
  • *
  • Laura Kalbag
  • *
  • Reuben Johnson
  • *
  • Sara M. Watson
  • *
  • SaVance Ford
  • *
  • Natalya Dell
  • *
  • Sherri Johnson
  • *
  • Xiaowei Wang
  • *
  • Becky Russell
  • *
  • Chelsey Petty-Dale
  • *
  • Cody Brooks
  • *
  • Willow Idlewild
  • *
  • Eli Pariser
  • *
  • Emily Best
  • *
  • Jasmine Sun
  • *
  • Jim Remsik
  • *
  • Coraline Ada Ehmke
  • *
  • Kris Boustedt
  • *
  • Laura Kalbag
  • *
  • Reuben Johnson
  • *
  • Sara M. Watson
  • *
  • SaVance Ford
  • *
  • Natalya Dell
  • *
  • Sherri Johnson
  • *
  • Xiaowei Wang
  • *
  • Becky Russell
  • *
  • Chelsey Petty-Dale
  • *
  • Cody Brooks
  • *
  • Willow Idlewild
  • *
  • Eli Pariser
  • *
  • Emily Best
  • *
  • Jasmine Sun
  • *
  • Jim Remsik
  • *
  • Coraline Ada Ehmke
  • *
  • Kris Boustedt
  • *
  • Laura Kalbag
  • *
  • Reuben Johnson
  • *
  • Sara M. Watson
  • *
  • SaVance Ford
  • *
  • Natalya Dell
  • *
  • Sherri Johnson
  • *
  • Xiaowei Wang
  • *