What's the one thing that people around the world couldn't do without for any length of time? I'm not talking about food or water or any of the necessities of life. I'm talking about something optional to your existence as a human being.

OK ... one of you sharing today's conversation suggests he couldn't live without a car or means of transportation. Then there's a suggestion that most folks couldn't survive without television, the Internet, or air conditioning and heating.

All of those optional devices pale in comparison to an invention that's only been around (in widespread use) since the early 1990s. I had one back then because of my job as a TV news anchor. It was almost the size of two bricks stacked one on top of the other and weighed almost as much.  

Know what I'm talking about? 

Of course you do. It's the ubiquitous (I love that word) cell phone — the personal companion of nearly every man, woman and child in the developed world.

So, how did this means of communicating come about anyway? For that answer you'll have to go back a looong way ... to 1908. That's when the U.S. Patent office gave its official seal of approval to a what may be the very first wireless telephone. By the way, the patent application came from the state of Kentucky.

The first mobile phones were actually two-way radios used by folks who needed mobile communication like cab companies, ambulances, TV and radio stations.

I remember having a radio-telephone in the news car furnished by WTVY-TV in Dothan. The car was a robin's egg blue, 1974 square back Volkswagen. The area of reception was limited to the small towns surrounding Dothan and no farther. The only problem was that the radio/phones were analog — meaning you could eavesdrop on calls using a handheld scanner. No privacy at all. Not good. 

To understand how cell phones — and now smart phones — have evolved into being integral parts of our lives, all we have to do is go to our junk drawer and see all the old phones we've collected over the years. 

At first we wanted to have a phone as small as practical; a flip phone that fit comfortably in our jacket or pants pocket was ideal. Then they gradually grew larger to accommodate a long-lasting battery, a camera system, an accurate clock, and applications for nearly everything imaginable.

Thanks to the cell phone I no longer wear a watch. It's on the phone. I don't carry a separate high tech digital camera; it's built into the phone. So is my e-mail and my messaging. I never buy a paper map when we go on vacation; the map's on the phone. A pleasant voice now tells me how to get to my vacation destination, turn by turn. Is there a wreck on I-85 near Auburn? One quick glance shows me the location of congestion and indicates where I could take the back roads.

I used to know dozens of phone numbers back in the day. Now, I just touch the person's name I wish to call. Without my phone, I wouldn't be able to call anyone. Thank goodness I have written down most of my key numbers. Let's hear it for a pencil and paper.

Having all these conveniences can also create a sense of horrible loss when we misplace our phones, or God forbid, really lose our phones. A couple of weeks ago, I woke up one morning and couldn't locate my iPhone! Horror of horrors! What would I do? After some quick detective work I determined I had left it in the backseat of my elder son's truck the night before. He's an orthopedic surgeon. It wasn't like he could stop what he was doing, run out of the operating room and see if his forgetful Daddy had indeed left his phone there.

I was in a panic. How would I make it through the day? How would I communicate with the rest of the civilized world? How would I know that I've been sent an important e-mail or message? What cute cat or dog photo or video did I miss on Facebook? 

The panic grew when I allowed myself to think the unthinkable. What would I do if the phone wasn't in the backseat as I had deduced? What if someone had found it lying next to the truck and had taken it ... stolen ... gone forever? 

As it turns out the phone was right where I left it the day before and all my fears were unfounded. But this little scenario was a wake-up call for me ... one that made me think twice before leaving the phone in an unfamiliar place. 

I read an article by a "memory expert" who suggested saying out loud where you are putting your phone or keys or anything you're apt to misplace. I know Paula was a little leery of the first time she heard me walking in the backdoor and saying "I am putting my phone in the basket near the coffee maker." But it helps. 

I think I just need a purse.

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