Pagers: Thank pop culture for your longevity

Pagers:Thank pop culture for your longevity

While pagers have been around since 1921, they didn’t hit their groove until the 1960s. At that time, they revolutionized the way physicians and nurses were able to receive and send messages. For the ensuing 30 years pagers continued to remain popular with those in healthcare and only in the 1990s did pager longevity extend beyond the hospital to become popular with hip-hop music videos. Today, when we see pagers, it is important to realize that much of their continued popularization through the 90s and early 2000s was due to the influence of hip hop culture.

Hip hop culture is associated with many trends but one of the many ways in which hip hop makes itself felt is through its music and, more specifically, rap. According to a recent article in Boombox,  it was Notorious B.I.G. who was among the first to put pagers in a hip hop music video with his 1994 song “Warning”.  In his praise of pagers, he raps:

Who the f*&( is this? Pagin me at 5:46 In the mornin, crack of dawn an’

Now I’m yawnin, wipe the cold out my eye

See who’s this pagin me, and why? “.

  -Warning by The Notorious B.I.G.

The pager used in the video was a one-way messaging device that could only receive numeric messages. Using this pager only allowed users to send a telephone number to the receiver and the receiver would then need to call the person back to communicate.  The pagers used by many physicians these days are not too dissimilar from those used 25 years ago.

Hip hop, on the other hand, did progress. Hip-hop moved on to embrace 2-way pagers in the early 2000s. Fabolous’ “Young’n (Holla Back)” shows the artist using a 2-way pager. According to Boombox, this singular use of 2-way pagers highlighted them as a “hot commodity”.


Pagers continued in hip-hop and rap videos for a few more years after their use in the Fabolous video and were seen in the likes of videos from Snoop Dogg and JAY-Z. However, by the time smartphones became more ubiquitous in the early 2000s, pager longevity waned.

One should note that the early 2000s was also the time at which Motorola got out of the paging business. Does one need a bigger canary in the coal mine than this to notice that pagers were on their way out? Articles written at the time that Motorola exited the paging business noted that the company realized as the prices of mobile phones fell, the popularity for its pagers would wane. Pagers were simply no longer the revenue drivers they used to be.

I guess no one told Motorola that doctors would continue to use pagers for the better part of 2 more decades. Clearly, no one in the medical community got Motorola’s message.

Today, the medical world is still stuck on pagers. It would be great if doctors, hospitals and clinics could take a lesson from their brethren in pop culture and move away from pagers and onto a smartphone. Clearly, pop culture has been smart enough to embrace smartphones. When will medicine wise up?

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