Redefining ‘Going Mobile’ – A 40 Year Retrospect

Wireless Providers Cloud the Use of ‘Mobility’ 

Pete Townshend and The WhoForty years ago this coming August, The Who came out with their ‘Who’s Next’ album featuring one of their all-time greatest hits ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. Also on the album was another chart-topping favorite ‘Going Mobile’ written by Pete Townshend. His lyrics were about the ability to keep moving and living free. To go where you want to go, when you want to go:

I can pull up by the curb, I can make it on the road… goin’ mobile.
I can stop in any street, invitin’ people that we’d meet… goin’ mobile. Keep me moving!
Out in the woods or in the city, It’s all the same to me
When I’m drivin’ free the world’s my home… going mobile.

Pete Townshend and The WhoLittle did Townshend know back in 1971 the importance (and impact) the word ‘mobile’ would have on the world with the invention of the cellular phone and other ‘mobile devices’. A 70’s era Webster’s dictionary simply stated that mobile meant:  ‘capable of moving or being moved’. There was no mention of technology. The closest thing to a mobile device back then was a walkie-talkie two-way radio tranceiver, mostly used by the military.

Motorola Dyna-TacIt wasn’t until 1973 that the first prototype mobile phone was introduced (known as the Motorola Dyna-Tac). Today, pocket-size gadgets that can communicate across the globe have redefined its primary usage in the English language.

In the last two decades, the wireless technology industry has pretty much taken over the word mobile. By the time today’s child becomes an adult they will have heard the term ‘mobile’ thousands of times over – having little to do with one’s physical abilities. Its Latin origin ‘mobilis’ meant movable, but I doubt the early Greeks were thinking about smart phones and i-pads. Word meanings however can and do evolve. So they can use mobile, cell, cellular, apps, i-this, i-that and wireless infinitum. No problem. What is a little more troublesome is that they’ve also started to commandeer the word ‘mobility’.  Researching the etymology of mobility (vs. mobile), it is generally referred to as a condition of one’s movement and the ability to physically move.

Examples of this wordsmith takeover include Motorola changing its name to Motorola Mobility, Inc. (now trading on the NYSE as MMI).  Bell Cellular, a division of Bell Canada, changed its name to Bell Mobility. AT&T now offers ‘enterprise mobility services’ to help manage your business. That would be fine for a business with hundreds of wheelchairs and scooters.

The encroachment of ‘mobility’ by the wireless mega-corporations has providers of true mobility products and disability-related websites sharing space with them on the Internet. With billions of ad dollars spent each year by the ‘phone’ guys, Internet searches for ‘physical mobility’ issues and products can get a strange mix of irrelevant blurred results. And that’s not good for the disabled community. Mobility should be reserved for use in helping an individual to keep moving. A phone service provider shouldn’t be calling you to upgrade your mobility plan, as an example.

On the other hand, how long will it be before scooters have built-in Bluetooth devices?

So Pete — here’s to you and the anniversary of Going Mobile. If you were writing the song today, the lyrics may have been much different.

Note: Townshend recently provided the initial funding for a non-profit hearing advocacy group called H.E.A.R. He now suffers from severe hearing loss due to his extensive exposure to loud music over three decades of live concerts.