Chapter 16 – My First Camera Phone

The first camera phone that I ever saw was the Nokia 7650 in the summer of 2002, at an electronics shop in a mall down the road from my Sydney hotel. It was a hulking brute of a vertical slider that cost upwards of a thousand Australian dollars, and wouldn’t even work in North America. The first camera phone that I actually used wasn’t made for North American markets either; it was another Japanese keitai that I rented for my second trip to Tokyo in January, 2003.

I had a buddy from high school who worked the IT racket in the United States. His frequent paid-for flights back and forth between Toronto and Dallas gave him enough points to enjoy a first class return trip to the faraway land where his favourite animé and manga were made. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to tag along.

Since my inaugural visit to Japan in 2001 NTT DoCoMo (of i-mode fame) had introduced a new service called i-shot, enabling its users to share photos via the built-in cameras on their handsets. Nothing special today, I know — but back then it was enough for me to justify my entire trip.

I secured an i-shot compatible phone once again via Japan Cell Phone Rentals, and upon my return to the Excel Hotel Tokyu in Shibuya a package was waiting for us at the front desk, just like the first time. Inside was a Mitsubishi mova D251i, in “dusty rose” — that is, the one meant for girls.

I snapped about fifty 120×120-pixel photos that trip — of cars, food, signs, toys, myself… I had always been a fan of digital cameras, and accustomed as I was to the restrictions of low resolution photography I felt that I could adequately exploit this oddly small and square palette. Plus, there was something incredibly liberating about having a camera with you at all times, one you could keep at the ready in a pocket rather than a bag or knapsack.

But having a connected camera was the best part of all. Snapping a photo from the streets of Tokyo and sending it to a friend halfway around the world by email immediately after was — at that time, at least — the stuff of science fiction. Never mind that said friend halfway around the world was at that moment more than likely sound asleep. And that I racked up and extra fifty US dollars in data charges over and above my one hundred dollar handset rental. And that I discovered that the phone had a removable memory card only after I had emailed every single photo to myself from the handset.

The future, it seemed, didn’t come cheap.