Twenty years ago today, a German entrepreneur by the name of Joachim Benz had hit upon a seemingly perfect business plan: he would make phone calls to people. And those people would pay him to make those phone calls, to the tune of at least 5 deutschmarks each time - about €3.50 in today's money. Sometimes he'd charge much more: DM15 was not unknown. But he wasn't just making any calls: his service was set up specifically to make calls to mobile phones.
In this terrible future world we live in where we can hardly avoid our mobiles ringing away in a constant barrage of chirping horror, this may seem like a kind of insanity. But the world was different twenty years ago, and Benz was surfing on a wave of technological change: he was charging people to receive phone calls from him simply so that they could look like they were actually using their mobiles once in a while.
The mobile telephone had been around for a while by 1994 - the technology was first demonstrated way back in 1973 - but they were still quite the novelty to most people. The early adopters were often using them as status symbols as much as actual tools of communication. To be able to take a call from a 'client' in the middle of a meeting was not a social faux pas punishable by having a bottle of sparkling water thrown at you, but a demonstration of success, wealth and up-to-the-minute modernity.
History seems not to have recorded the final fate of Herr Benz's business venture, or whether a special place in hell has been reserved for him. Perhaps future historians will record 1994 as the year we first became enslaved by our cellular overlords. Or possibly I've been fooled by a hoax article in a twenty year old newspaper. Either way, I've managed to get through a post without mentioning a murder, a massacre, an accident or a tragedy of one kind or another, and that's starting to feel like a bit of an achievement...