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The un-fictionalization of cell-phone jammers

miniPhoneJammer.gifTen years after the then-fictional invention (in our column in Byte magazine) of the cell-phone jammer, the New York Times reports, on November 4, 2007, that the device is now quite real ? and that it enjoys widespread use by people who enjoy using it:

Andrew reached into his shirt pocket and pushed a button on a black device the size of a cigarette pack. It sent out a powerful radio signal that cut off the chatterer?s cellphone transmission ? and any others in a 30-foot radius.

?She kept talking into her phone for about 30 seconds before she realized there was no one listening on the other end,? he said. His reaction when he first discovered he could wield such power? ?Oh, holy moly! Deliverance.?

As cellphone use has skyrocketed, making it hard to avoid hearing half a conversation in many public places, a small but growing band of rebels is turning to a blunt countermeasure: the cellphone jammer, a gadget that renders nearby mobile devices impotent.

Here is our description written in 1997. The device was called “Apoptosis”:

The word “apoptosis” comes from biology: It means “programmed cell death.”… What’s so wonderful about Apoptosis? Simply this: It disconnects any cell-phone call within earshot of you.

Apoptosis has an effective range of 15 feet — wide enough to get the job done, tight enough that it won’t disrupt the phone connections of innocent neighbors.

Apoptosis is small and inconspicuous. It fits on a keychain. It looks like a worry bead. When someone nearby starts to gab, gab, gab on a cell phone, you simply adopt an innocent facial expression, squeeze your little “worry bead,” and instantly see your wish come true: The jerk’s cell-phone connection dies.

Right after the column appeared, readers bombarded us with questions about where they could buy the ? alas, then-fictional ? product. The first nonfictional cell-phone-jamming products (so far as we know) appeared on the market a year later, in 1998, one offered by a firm in Japan, another by a company in Israel. The Times article mentions a company,, that now sells a variety of such devices.

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