In the year 1990, 12.4 million people worldwide had cellular subscriptions. By the end of 2009, only 20 years later, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide reached approximately 4.6 billion, 370 times the 1990 number, penetrating the developing economies and reaching the bottom of the economic pyramid.
The early and mid-1990s saw the launch of several soap-opera dramas aimed at younger audiences that became quick hits: Beverly Hills, 90210; Melrose Place; New York Undercover; and Party of Five. September 1993 saw the heavy promotion and debut of a short-lived Western with science-fiction elements, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. However, it was the Friday night show that debuted immediately following it, The X-Files, which would find long-lasting success, and would be Fox's first series to crack Nielsen's year-end Top 20.
As The X-Files saw its viewership expand from a "small, but devoted" group of fans to a worldwide mass cult audience, digital telecommunications were also becoming mainstream. According to The New York Times, "this may have been the first show to find its audience growth tied to the growth of the Internet." The X-Files was seen to incorporate new technologies into storylines beginning in the early seasons: Mulder and Scully communicated on cellular phones, e-mail contact with secret informants provided plot points in episodes such as "Colony" and "Anasazi", while The Lone Gunmen were portrayed as Internet aficionados as early as 1994.
I remember how
Fox and Dana saved the world
by talking out things
on their telephones.
Now everyone constantly
talks out everything
on their telephones.
Everybody’s on the phone
making things happen!
Did the X-Files single-handedly turn cell phones from fringe, fad, yuppie toys into mainstream cultural artifacts?
I’m sure a rigorous answer to this question would conclude that a lot of corporations invested billions of dollars into cell phone technology and advertising, and psychologically human beings in general have an intense desire to stay “in touch” with friends and loved ones.
Anecdotally, however, speaking as someone who lived through those pivotal years of phone technology in the 90s—and speaking as someone who was paying attention because I hated, and continue to hate, people who turn public spaces into their personal phone booths—I would answer this question with a resounding yes.
Before the X-Files, nobody I knew used cell phones. In the early seasons most people I knew would laugh at the endless cell phone conversations between Scully and Mulder. By the time the X-Files movie came out and Scully and Mulder are introduced talking on their cell phones next to each other on the roof, pretty much everybody I knew had a cell phone and, though they continued to laugh at the endless phone conversations of Scully and Mulder, the laughter was affectionate laughter. It was laughter like, Hey, that’s just like us, we talk on the phone all the time, too.
I strongly suspect there is a physical addiction involved in cell phone usage, with the low-level radiation warming and/or stimulating the user’s brain and causing a subliminal sensation that their unconscious seeks to continue and/or repeat.
But, too, I strongly suspect the educated, attractive and very likeable characters of Scully and Mulder on the X-Files constantly talking on their cell phones turned the technology into a socially acceptable—even socially desirable—symbol of coolness and belonging.
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Ten Thirteen Unanswered Questions #1