For a 40-year-old gadget, it is remarkable what a central role mobile phones continue to play in our lives. April 3 marked the anniversary of Martin Cooper of Motorola becoming the first man to use a mobile in 1973. He says he was lucky not to become the first casualty of mobile phone usage soon after as he walked around talking on it without paying attention to the New York traffic.
From a "brick" that weighed almost a kilogram, cost US$4,000 and had a battery life of four hours, modern mobile phones have come a long way. It is much lighter for the user and on the wallet, though advances in battery life haven't followed that tremendous pace of improvement.
The emergence of smartphones unleashed unforeseen changes and the trend continues. From keeping in touch to doing commerce, mobile phones even changed the very fabric of some societies, as was evident during the Arab spring.
The low cost and easy availability of mobile phones meant that cumbersome and expensive landlines became a thing of the past in many places. According to the UN, more than six billion people have access to a mobile phone now. But only 4.5 billion have access to clean toilets.
Mobile phones have changed our behavioural patterns even without us noticing. Before their advent, a person sitting alone and talking, or walking along the road talking loudly, would have been an extraordinary sight. But now you don't even give a second glance, nor feel odd doing it yourself. Nor do we raise our eyebrows when we see young couples on a date arrive at a restaurant, sit down and not talk. Both will be busy looking at their mobiles. Obviously, some in love can't take their eyes off their ... phones.
One piece of research shows the most common use of mobiles is to check the time.
Even centuries old traditions are now being swept aside by mobile phones. One service offered by agencies on the mainland during the grave-sweeping holiday this week was to arrange for people to go and place flowers on graves of your ancestors for a fee. They would also place a mobile phone there for you to talk to your ancestors. For some people, this year's grave sweeping was just a swipe across the screen.
Alex Lo is on leave