On this day in 1973, I was a junior in high school. Bell bottoms and mini-skirts were still popular, Richard Nixon was president and the first call was made from a portable, hand-held cellphone.

That was 44 years ago. Motorola executive Martin Cooper on April 3 stood talking to reporters on Sixth Avenue in New York City, holding a DynaTAC phone that was so heavy and bulky one could talk on it only about 20 minutes. Cooper called competitor Joel Engel of Bell Labs — to gloat.

That was a pivotal moment, though we may not have imagined it then. Cellphones have become so common that they are a way of life. And, as I see it, both a blessing and a curse.

When I was a young reporter back in the late ’80s and covering an emergency event in rural Somerset County, if I needed to call an editor at the Morning Sentinel office in Waterville, I had to stop at a house, knock on the door, introduce myself and ask to use the phone.

Most people welcomed me in — it wasn’t like it is today, when everyone is afraid of everyone else.

Otherwise, if I was in a more populated area, I’d stop at a phone booth to make a call. They were on just about every corner, whereas now, if you see one, it’s typically rundown and dirty — and the phone doesn’t work.

It took us reporters longer to do our jobs 25 years ago, though everything moved more slowly then and we had much later deadlines and no need to post web updates. It wasn’t unusual to finish writing a story at 11 p.m. about meeting that had run late.

Cellphones make our jobs easier, particularly when we need to communicate quickly with editors. We can call or email or text from a meeting to let them know a vote has not yet been taken on an important issue and we’ll be submitting a story later than expected. Facing a quickly approaching deadline one night, I was unable to ask a city councilor an important question because the council meeting was still in session and running late. I took a chance and emailed her, though she was sitting just feet away from me in the council chambers. She replied immediately and I was able to leave and write my story.

We reporters are able to use our cellphones to take photos at fires, car crashes or crime scenes and send them right away to editors if our photographer hasn’t arrived yet. Those photos can be put up on our website immediately.

In the old days, we took photos with cameras using black-and-white film that had to be driven to the darkroom at the Morning Sentinel in Waterville to be processed before they appeared in the print edition the next day. We had no website and there was no such thing as the internet.

In June 1994 when the Morning Sentinel was located on the southeast end of The Concourse, one evening lightning struck the newspaper building and we lost all communications. A seasoned editor flew out the door and ran to Cottle’s supermarket on the west side of The Concourse to call the managing editor for instruction. The news crew drove to the Kennebec Journal, our sister paper in Augusta, where they were able to get the paper out.

Cellphones allow us to get information quickly and there’s no question that in emergency situations, they can be a life-saver.

The perks of cellphones are innumerable, but there are downsides, not the least of which is that many serious or fatal crashes occur when drivers text, make phone calls or attempt to retrieve airborne cellphones.

There’s also the annoyance factor, such as when we want to communicate with someone and he is in a virtual trance, focused only on his phone; and the dangerous, when people become addicted to Facebook and other social media sites and cannot function without their cellphones attached to their hips.

It’s spooky to think that our whereabouts can be tracked via our cellphones. On the other hand, cellphones enable police to solve crimes. In television shows about real crime, authorities are able to put a suspect in a specific place at a particular time because his cellphone pinged off nearby cell towers.

It was an interesting year, 1973. “All in the Family,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” and “The Waltons,” were popular TV shows. The movies “The Way We Were” and “The Sting” were released, and popular songs such as “Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack and “Loves Me Like a Rock” by Paul Simon were always on the radio.

We only imagined having gadgets like cellphones in 1973. A wristwatch back then was considered high-tech and the notion that you could make a phone call with it and see the person you were talking to at the same time was simply futuristic thinking — like something out of the novel “1984.”

Well, the future is here, 1984 is long past and now cellphones are old hat — 44 years old, to be exact.

Forty-four years from now, I likely won’t be here to see what my younger colleagues will be using for new gadgets.

I can only hope the world will still be here, so that they can.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 29 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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