What Was the Two-Way Pager?

You can type pretty fast on these doohickeys. CreditTony Cenicola for the New York Times

The New York Times headline:A World Divided Into Two-Way Pager Camps” (see it in context).

Published on: January 14, 2001.

The story: Near the dawn of the texting era, we noted that a tech-device culture war broke out between establishment types (Al Gore, Bill Gates, Michael Dell), who favored the no-nonsense BlackBerry, and members of the celebrity A-list (Star Jones, Russell Simmons, Carson Daly), who flocked to the colorful, youth-friendly Motorola two-way pager.

Picture it: Jan. 14, 2001.Credit

Why was it published then? Six years before the debut of the iPhone, Motorola’s clamshell pager was a hot new gadget, with a million users and a growing cachet among “members of the African-American elite in entertainment and sports.” They seemed to find that “the cellphone is so last millennium.” Proof: Jay-Z name-checked his Motorola pager in his single “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me).”

What were the caveats? Pamela Anderson, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were all members of the “elite in entertainment” — but still also happened to use BlackBerrys.

Jay-Z was photographed being impolite but efficient.Credit

Unanswered questions: Star Jones, who was “camped out in her usual seat in celebrity row, courtside at a New York Knicks game in Madison Square Garden,” received “a message from Derek Jeter, asking for the game’s score.” Did Mr. Jeter not have internet access in 2001? (Only about 40 percent of United States households did.) How badly did he need to know that Knicks score?

How well did this situation age? Celebrities and regular people alike eventually decided that thumb-typing personal messages to each other on electronic devices had no future, so they abandoned the practice entirely. (Kidding!)

Where can I get a two-way Motorola pager now? On Amazon, of course. Used, they start at $59.99.

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