Cell phones in sci-fi

So I was looking at my cell phone today, and it occurred to me that today’s flip-phones bear a sort of resemblance to the communicators in the orginal Star Trek, which are essentially long-long-distance mobile phones without the camera and games. Anyway, now I’m curious: did any science fiction writing (or TV/film) predict cell phones or devices with functionality similar to what we expect a moderately-priced phone to have nowadays? I don’t know if I’d count the Star Trek example, since it’s more of a walkie-talkie than a phone. Any ideas?

I like Heinlein for the honor.


It’s not the imagining of the device that does it - it’s also that that Heinlein could integrate the social aspects of the existence of the device into his story, with foresight.

I forget where I heard it, but I read somewhere that anyone in the 19th century could imagine and write about the automobile, but to foresee the family politics in the teenager of the family wanting to borrow it, is where the visionary talent is.

With regard to the cell phone, like you, I think the Star Trek communicator got it wrong. Many of today’s phones look like communicators, but we don’t hold them out in front of us and twiddle tuning dials while conversing speakerphone style.

I read a short story sometime in the early 80’s (I think) where everybody carried wristwatch size communication devices. People carried them all the time, and to turn them off was seen as seriously antisocial. Thus, you could never be really alone, you could be and was interupted all the time. Also, lots of products had audio advertisements on the products. There was a scene where a mother was shopping groceries, and her kids wanted a cereal with a cool soundtrack with drums. The stressed mother snapped that she did not want to listen to those drums every morning at breakfast – but she immediately relented, feeling that it was wrong of her to try to keep the children from the advertisments they preferred. The main character in the story ends up committing a crime because prison is the only place he can get some peace and quiet. In the last paragraph, a marketing person says: “Prisons… Now, that’s an unexplored market segment…”
I’ve no idea who wrote it or what the title was – does it ring a bell for anyone?

I also remember a short story by Tor Åge Bringsværd (I think) called something like “The little brother who thought “What the hell”” (“Lillebroren som ga faen”, probably not translated from Norwegian). It describes a future where everybody carry “little brothers” or “little sisters”: Small computers with AI which help you with all desicions, giving friendly advice. You don’t have to follow the advice of your little brother, but you always do, because you know that your little brother always knows best. And making your own desicions is difficult and scary when you’ve never done it before. The little brothers and sisters can communicate with each other, so you can send messages to anyone, but the communication aspect is – to put it mildly – pretty far from the main point of the devices and the story.

Hm, I have to try digging up some of those short story collections…

Yes, it does ring a bell, but that’s all it does. I remember the biit with the cereal. Now I have to stick with this thread, hoping someone else will remember the story.

It’s not a cellphone, but, as I’ve noted many times on this Board, Heinlein’s movie Project Moonbase features wireless phones. If you look closely, you’ll notice that none of the phones in the movie have cords. They all have little antennae that match antennae on the desk set. They never point this out or overtly call attention to it in the film, and I suspect this, like most of the cute SF touches, are part of Heinlein’s own contribution to the film.

This, of course, is in addition to the cellphone-like things that show up in his fiction.

A lot of Heinleinian “futuristic” ideas have come to pass – sensor light switches in rooms that turn the lights on when someone’s in the room and off otherwise, waldoes, waterbeds, several things in his essay “Where to?” (although he got several things he got wrong in that, too). A lot of it was extrapolation, and I’m sure he’d agree. Heinlein had a better-than-average track record , I think.

In the 80s? Dick Tracy had two-way wrist radios in the 1940s. They were limited to police work, but their utility was well drawn.

What about that damn walkie-talkie service? No dial twiddling, but they do yammer at them just like Kirk did, speaker-phone style, complete with annoying, unnecessary beeping.