The concept of the cell phone being worn on the wrist was first introduced to the public over 60 years ago on Jan. 13, 1931 in a Dick Tracy comic strip written by Chester Gould. In 1964, the two-way wrist-radio was upgraded to a two-way wrist TV. Gould introduced a new supporting character, Diet Smith, an eccentric industrialist to the strip who, like Steve Jobs of Apple fame, developed the new technology. Talk about a visionary.
Gould was the first cartoonist to bring raw street violence to the page of the Sunday morning comic strip. Dick Tracy was a crime-fighting detective. Gould used his character to fight crime with guns in street fights and used forensic evidence to convict gang members in the courts of Chicago. However, beginning on Christmas Day in 1949, violence in the strip became somewhat tempered — after a long and turbulent 18-year courtship, Tracy married Tess Truehart. A new baby girl, Bonnie Braids, soon arrived and as one critic wrote “Elements of soap opera began to permeate the strip.” Gould began using Tracy’s new family life as a way to address Juvenile delinquency, organized crime graft and family values.
As society evolved, Gould kept up with the times. His work was always topical and the good guy almost always won. His popular cast of characters and escapades of villains Pruneface and flattop Jones held the readers interest for years. His odoriferous, tobacco chewing character, B.O. Plenty, was readily accepted by the public. But his shyster lawyer Fly face, along with his relatives surrounded by swarming flies, didn’t fly too well with the readers, and combined with a change featuring more science fiction episodes, his readership was on the decline. Chester Gould retired from comics in 1977; his last Dick Tracy strip appeared in print on Sunday, December 25 of that year.
While Dick Tracy was using his ingenious wrist phone, mortals like us were still using the modern Bell-Tel land phone system. Modern, in that, for an extra fee you could have a private line. Ordinarily, most of us were on a four-party line. If you wanted to know if your neighbor was talking about you on the phone you could listen in on the party line and find out. Sort of like what the government does now, thanks to the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 and Homeland Security Act enacted on Nov. 25, 2002 and signed by our dunce President G.W. Bush.
The PATRIOT Act gives government the authority to use roving wiretaps, search business records, conduct surveillance of “lone wolves” — individuals suspected of terrorist-related activities not linked to terrorist groups — and obtain subpoenas from a secret court to electronically monitor our lives. Of course, the government thinks all Americans are suspected terrorists. President Obama signed a four-year extension of the Act in 2011. I wonder what Dick Tracy would have thought about that.
David Farside is political activist and Sparks resident.