Nightly News   |  April 03, 2013

Ringing in 40 years of cell phones

From the giant brick-like phones of the past to the sleeker touchscreens we’re accustomed to today, the cell phone has undergone a huge evolution both in terms of style and popularity. NBC’s Kevin Tibbles reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> tonight as we speak there are an estimated 5 billion cell phones in the world. 40 years ago tonight there was only one. looking back, how did we ever stay in touch? how did we ever manage? somehow we did while managing to win world war ii and go to the moon in our spare time . but the cell phone and the smartphone are here and it's time to reflect back on their birth. our report from nbc 's kevin tibbles.

>> reporter: how did we ever survive without them? but did you know the first cell phone call ever made was on this new york street 40 years ago today with one of these?

>> wow. it's been a long time since i have seen one of these.

>> i wouldn't even know where to talk.

>> reporter: the man who made that call, 84-year-old inventor martin cooper .

>> think about it, kevin . the whole idea of a phone call changed. used to be that when you made a phone call you were calling a place. now you're calling a person.

>> reporter: sure there were spoofs from maxwell smart 's shoe phone .

>> mission accomplished.

>> reporter: to captain kirk .

>> scotty.

>> reporter: but the original was a two pound chunk of hardware that held a 20-minute charge. early models cost $4,000. society had no idea a cultural sonic boom was about to hit.

>> without the original brick phone we would not have the wireless internet , wifi and all the things we enjoy today.

>> reporter: where did the idea come from? the walkie-talkie, soldiers communicating on the battlefield. it gave birth to the first cell phone , people speaking to one another from anywhere. remember when these were sexy?

>> reporter: greed is good. michael douglas had one in wall street .

>> this is your wake up call , pal.

>> reporter: by 1988 even nbc producers were using the brick model. so what's coming next?

>> if you think about it, holding this thing up to your ear, does that make a great deal of sense? it's awkward. the phone ought to be either over your ear or embedded under your skin.

>> reporter: even the f the cell phone gets microscopic, chances are we'll answer it in spite of its inventors best intentions.

>> we always put an on/off button on the phone. the phone is supposed to be your slave. you are not supposed to be the slave of your phone.

>> reporter: if only. kevin tibbles, nbc news, shaumberg, illinois.