When Scotsman Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, it was a revolution. Over the last two decades a new means of spoken communication has emerged: the mobile phone.

Magazine - Mobile phones

Instructions

Do the Preparation task first. Then go to Text and read the article (you can also listen to the audio while you read). Next go to Task and do the activity.

Audio icon magazine-mobile-phones.mp3

Mobile phones

by Craig Duncan

When Scotsman Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, it was a revolution in communication. For the first time, people could talk to each other over great distances almost as clearly as if they were in the same room. Nowadays, though, we increasingly use Bell’s invention for taking photographs, accessing the internet or watching video clips rather than talking. Over the last two decades a new means of spoken communication has emerged: the mobile phone.

The modern mobile phone is a more complex version of the two-way radio. Traditional two-way radio was a very limited means of communication. As soon as the users moved out of range of each other’s broadcast area, the signal was lost. In the 1940s, researchers began experimenting with the idea of using a number of radio masts located around the countryside to pick up signals from two-way radios. A caller would always be within range of one of the masts; when he moved too far away from one mast, the next mast would pick up the signal. (Scientists referred to each mast’s reception area as being a separate 'cell'; this is why in many countries mobile phones are called 'cell phones'.)

However, 1940s technology was still quite primitive, and the 'telephones' were enormous boxes which had to be transported by car.

The first real mobile telephone call was made in 1973 by Dr Martin Cooper, the scientist who invented the modern mobile handset. As soon as his invention was complete, he tested it by calling a rival scientist to announce his success. Within a decade, mobile phones became available to the public. The streets of modern cities began to feature sharp-suited characters shouting into giant plastic bricks. In Britain the mobile phone quickly became synonymous with the 'yuppie', the new breed of young urban professionals who carried the expensive handsets as status symbols. Around this time many of us swore that we would never, ever own a mobile phone.

But in the mid-90s, something happened. Cheaper handsets and cheaper calling rates meant that, almost overnight, it seemed that everyone had a mobile phone. And the giant plastic bricks of the 80s had evolved into smooth little objects that fitted nicely into pockets and bags. In every pub and restaurant you could hear the bleep and buzz of mobiles ringing and registering messages, occasionally breaking out into primitive versions of the latest pop songs. Cities suddenly had a new, postmodern birdsong.

Moreover, people’s timekeeping changed. Younger readers will be amazed to know that, not long ago, people made spoken arrangements to meet at a certain place at a certain time. Once a time and place had been agreed, people met as agreed. Somewhere around the new millennium, this practice started to die out. Meeting times became approximate, subject to change at any moment under the new order of communication: the Short Message Service (SMS) or text message. Going to be late? Send a text message! It takes much less effort than arriving on time, and it’s much less awkward than explaining your lateness face-to-face. It’s the perfect communication method for the busy modern lifestyle. Like email before it, the text message has altered the way we write in English, bringing more abbreviations and a more lax approach to language construction. The 160-character limit on text messages has led to a new, abbreviated version of English for fast and instantaneous communication. Traditional rules of grammar and spelling are much less important when you’re sitting on the bus, hurriedly typing 'Will B 15min late - C U @ the bar. Sorry! :-)'.

Mobile phones, once the preserve of the high-powered businessperson and the 'yuppie', are now a vital part of daily life for an enormous amount of people. From schoolchildren to pensioners, every section of society has found that it’s easier to stay in touch when you’ve got a mobile. Over the last few years mobiles have become more and more advanced. Firstly, we saw the introduction of built-in cameras, global positioning devices and internet access. More recently we have witnessed the arrival of the 'third generation' of mobile phones: powerful micro-computers with broadband internet access, which will allow us to watch TV, download internet files at high speed and send instant video clips to friends.

Alexander Graham Bell would be amazed if he could see how far the science of telephony has progressed in less than 150 years. If he were around today, he might say:

'That’s gr8! But I’m v busy rite now. Will call U 2nite.'

 

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I enjoyed this task and love this article too. Although there are parts of the transcript that don't match the spoken words of the narrator. And sometimes (because I'm using a smart phone) it frustrates me when I keep on dragging the words/phrases on the specified boxes but it just won't fill in. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong but I certainly enjoy these exercises.

Hello gracemaryanne,

Thanks for your kind words! If you can tell us where the transcript is not correct, we'll fix that right away. If not, no worries, I'll look into it when I can.

I'm sorry to hear that the first exercise is difficult for you to get to work. I've just tried it on my phone and it worked fine, but I know that sometimes it's difficult. You might want to try using a different browser on your phone, as it may help. You might also want to look at our apps, which are of course specially designed just for mobiles.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

hello Mr.Kirk
I had the test exam and my level is B2
I feel lost in the website may be because i'm not familiar with it.
I wish you can give me quick tips how to go through the level, evaluate my progress, and find out if i can move to an advanced level.
Thanks alot

Hello Mohamed El-masry,

I'd suggest you read our Getting started and Frequently asked questions pages, where there is advice on how to use our site. You can also use Step 2 on our level page to find content at any given level - just change 'Level' from 'Any' to 'B2' (or whatever level you want) and you will see a list of content at that level.

Happy browsing!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

I can not understand the meaning of the following sentences:

1)occasionally breaking out into primitive versions of the latest pop songs
2)Cities suddenly had a new, postmodern birdsong.
3)feature sharp-suited characters shouting into giant plastic bricks

Hello Sharshar,

I'm afraid it's not possible for us to explain sentences from sources outside of our own. For one thing, without seeing the broader context it is very difficult to be sure, and for another if we began to offer such help we would have no time for anything else!

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,

Those sentences are from here, from this passage (The mobile phone), located in the 4th and 5th paragraphs.

Hello Sharshar,

My apologies! I did not recognise the sentences! I have paraphrased each of them below:

1)occasionally breaking out into primitive versions of the latest pop songs

From time to time the phones ring and have phone-versions of pop songs

2)Cities suddenly had a new, postmodern birdsong.

Instead of the songs of birds, now you could hear the ringtones of phones in cities

3)feature sharp-suited characters shouting into giant plastic bricks

[City streets] began to have people in expensive and fashionable suits using their large (early) phones loudly in public

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,
Thanks a lot for paraphrasing. I need your advise. I am studying for IELTs. A score of 6 with minimum of 6.5 in each module is a must for my university. I did the preparation test here, My feedback was 77%, intermediate level, with advice to study from level B2. what level should i reach to be able to get the required score in the IELTs? Is B2 is sufficient or i have to raise my level to C1 or C2? Actually, i find passages in level C1 &C2 difficult. I was wondering if i can get your advice. Thanks

Hello Sharshar,

On TakeIELTS, there is a table that compares IELTS scores with the CEFR levels. As you can see, a 6.5 is in the B2 range, but is almost C1, which would suggest that you should work with some C1 materials as well. I'd suggest the first you thing you do is take some time to browse through TakeIELTS, where there is all kinds of information and advice on the exam that could really help you. Do one of their practice tests to get a sense for where you strengths and weaknesses are, and then work especially on your weaknesses (though don't neglect your strengths, either!).

You might also want to consider taking a course at a British Council Teaching Centre if there is one near where you live.

Good luck!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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