Sports column: Cellphone outage shows how fast the world has changed

Published 11:00 am Sunday, February 25, 2024

Every generation of Americans has a milestone moment when the world changed forever.

Pearl Harbor. The JFK assassination. 9/11. The Great Cellphone Outage of 2024.

That last one is obviously not as world-shattering as the others. Hopefully, anyway. I’m writing this on Thursday morning and by the time it sees print on the weekend we could be hip deep in “Red Dawn 2” or fighting off SkyNet robots. Neither would surprise me these days.

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Everyone freaking out about their cellphones shutting down for a few hours overnight Thursday is, however, a sign of how far and fast the world has changed.

Only 20 or so years ago cellphones were still a bit of a novelty, not the standard. Landlines and pay phones ruled the communications industry. Cellphones were helpful but expensive luxuries.

(For the kids, a “pay phone” was a device you inserted a “coin” into to purchase a few minutes of “talk time.” They were at every convenience store and some street corners. The last one I saw was at an interstate service plaza in Delaware in 2013. Now we return to the old man shaking his fist and yelling at clouds …)

Instantly available high-speed Wi-Fi was the fever dream of a futuristic madman. Nowadays we create mobile hot spots on our cellphones. I have Wi-Fi in my car and often stream radio stations from the other side of the country.

Back in the day, you were a bounty hunter with your ear on the street who knew the best McDonald’s or coffee shop to steal a signal from. Every reporter has, at some point, sat in the parking lot of one of those places with an open laptop and a deadline clock ticking.

Or, alternately, you could beg someone to let you use their landline for a dial-up connection. I once ducked into a sketchy South Jackson convenience store and sweet-talked the clerk into letting me use their phone to connect to AOL and email a story, which feels like a life achievement on several levels.

(For the kids, “AOL” was a primitive internet service that featured things like “chat rooms” and “electronic mail.” Now get off my lawn.)

Getting information after games has changed a lot. On Friday nights during football season we would have to hope a coach or designated stat person remembered to call us before getting on the bus, or that they got back to the fieldhouse before our deadline. Nowadays, we call them almost as soon as they break the postgame huddle.

Coaches who lost used to offer the excuse of “We got back late” to duck calls. Now it’s “My phone died” or “We were on the bus and had no service.”

The rise of cellphones has undoubtedly made life easier, especially for a journalist. Information and access to people is much more readily available than it was even 10 or 15 years ago. It is amazing, though, how quickly we’ve become so reliant on them.

All of the things I’ve mentioned here are from the past decade or two, yet sound and feel like they were from the 1800s. Heck, the iPhone didn’t even exist until 2007. Who knows what devices we — or maybe the SkyNet robots who conquered the world in early 2024 — will be using by 2050?

I do know one thing that won’t change, or isn’t planning to be changed any time soon.

The Vicksburg Post’s phone number is 601-636-4545. It has been the same for nearly 100 years, pretty much from the time the first tin can and string telephone was installed in Vicksburg.

It’s a landline.

Sometimes, the old ways are still the most reliable.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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