HAVANA TIMES — I’ve been meaning to buy a cellular phone for some time now, but there’s always something more vital I need to spend my money on: if it’s not a pair of shoes for my kids, then it’s something around the house urgently needing repair, or common everyday expenses on things like groceries and toiletries, which make it impossible to save for anything else.
I have an Italian friend who’s always telling me I’ve given cell phones more importance than they deserve, but the truth is that I’ve never seen him come to Cuba without his two mobiles, which are more modern and sophisticated each time around.
“I want to throw these away, they’re always ringing, I don’t get a moment’s peace,” he says to me. “Be grateful you still don’t have one.”
I almost got to thinking my friend was right. Why insist on buying a mobile phone, when I don’t have enough money to buy a bag of croquettes sometimes? How would I pay the phone bills?
Then I remember how handy these phones can be in case of an emergency, like the one I had a few days ago. My younger brother had been in an accident in Holguin and, thanks to his mobile phone, we were able to know immediately that he hadn’t suffered any serious injuries and didn’t have to dash off to that province in desperation.
On April 3 this year, it had been 40 years since these phones were used for the very first time. It was Martin Cooper, an electrical engineer, who, in New York, made the first call from a mobile phone, a device which weighed nearly one and a half kilograms and had a battery which lasted only 20 minutes at the time.
Since then, this technology has changed a lot and has revolutionized the lives of millions of people around the world and the way in which they communicate.
Twenty years had to elapse before our country could know this piece of technology. Cuba began to offer mobile phone services in February of 1993, but only to foreign companies and a handful of State institutions.
These services were expanded little by little until they were made available to the general public on April 14, 2008, as most remember. After all, who could forget the price a phone and line cost at the time, or now, for that matter, when they continue to be beyond the possibilities of the average worker?
It’s been said that Cuba has over 1,600,000 cell phone users, and that there are in fact more mobile phones than landlines in the country. But the call rates continue to be far too expensive and the service, as Osmel commented in one of his diaries, has some unusual restrictions, like the fact you can only have one line to your name, or that you have to spend a minimum amount of money every month if you want to keep it.
Cellular phones have changed the lives of people around the world and the very workings of the world economy. Thanks to mobile phones, most people living in cities around the globe are always reachable. For many plumbers, electricians, mechanics and engineers, the mobile phone is like a portable office.
What’s more, the mobile phone has become the most common form of access to the Internet, a means of paying bills, watching movies, reading books, taking photographs and shooting videos. It also serves as a GPS and radio, among many other things.
The mobile phone took 20 years to find its way to Cuba, and an extra 25 to reach the common Cuban. Forty years have elapsed since its invention and Cubans still can’t enjoy most of its advantages because of our lack of access to the Internet. I will probably need 40 more years to be able to buy one, and maybe an additional 40 to be able to afford the price to maintain the service.