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  Weekly Feature (September 24, 2007)


The Curse of the Cell Phone
Rick's Weekly Feature



The other day I was stopped at a traffic light waiting for the signal to turn green. As I often do, I looked at the other drivers waiting in line. To my left was a rather attractive woman driving an SUV. Hanging from her ear was a cellular phone device. I thought to myself, she would be far more attractive if she was not hooked up to the electronic device like a robot. The only other time I have felt this revulsion toward otherwise gorgeous women is when I see them smoking. This led me to the conclusion that cellular phones are the cigarettes of the new millennium. They are aggressively, and  shamelessly, marketed to consumers, particularly youths. Like cigarettes, they can be addictive and potentially dangerous, and are misused by the young to create an air of sophistication and importance.

A Cell phone is highly addictive, and its hold on the user can be as strong as nicotineís on a smoker. Iíve read about teens in Spain who sleep with their phones so they never miss a call. An addiction is the persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful, so to call it an addiction we must first prove it is harmful.

Is ignoring the people around you in a public place wrong? Maybe.  Is talking louder than everyone else in a quiet place rude? Possibly. More importantly, does cell phone use interfere with your work or your studies? Is it impossible to ignore your cell when it rings or, better yet, vibrates? Does it intrude on the time you spend with your family or friends? Do you find yourself massaging your phone instead of your spouse? When you are away from your phone and your partner for a few hours, which do you miss more?  If you find yourself answering Ďyesí to any of these questions, you may have a problem.

We know cigarettes are dangerous, but are these devices dangerous? ICBC and other insurance companies have done research to determine the role cell phone usage plays in car accidents. A study in the journal Human Factors found that young drivers who used a cell while on the road had the same reaction time as a senior citizen when required to stop suddenly. One problem with trying to conduct these studies is that drivers do not mention the fact that they were on the phone during the accident.

Obviously, it would mean they were not paying full attention and would make them responsible. Some people might argue that having a cell in the car is essential for safety. They can be invaluable when you are stranded on a lonely road or highway. But using a phone while driving has no merit. A phone conversation is a lot more distracting than listening to your favourite radio station. It is bad enough getting upsetting news over the phone. You donít want to be travelling at 110km/h when you get it.

ď Rick, your dog died, you need a new kidney, the house burned down and . . . what was the other thing? Oh yeah! Iím leaving you for your best friend.Ē

Aside from the potential dangers, cell phones, like cigarettes are often used to suggest social status. Teens tell their parents they need a phone so that Mom or Dad can reach them in an emergency. When I taught teenagers, I told them that if their parents needed to reach them they could call the school office. The truth is that students want phones to fit in with their peers. A cell phone means people want to talk to you. It means that you have money in your pocket because you can afford the technology. It means you can play video games during math class and take pictures of your friends to put on

In the 1980s, when I was in school, the only students with pagers (there were no cell phones) were the guys selling drugs. In the 70s and 80s the popular kids smoked; now they talk on their phones and talk about their phones. Boy! Iím sounding more like my father every day. Thatís a frightening thought.

Cell phone use may make a young person feel popular, but it, in fact, leads to isolation and heartbreak. Cell phone users tend to associate with other users. Just as smokers find comfort spending time with other smokers, phone users will choose to associate with other users. Have you ever been with a person that would rather talk on his phone than with you? Donít take it personally. It is just part of the addiction.

The difference now is that cell phone users outnumber non-users like myself. Smokers have usually been a minority (except in bars and casinos) and have huddled together for protection against the icy stares of non-smokers and, even worse, former smokers.  Also, cell phones can be a real date-killer. I cannot speak from personal experience (I donít use a phone and havenít had a date in 17 years), but I can imagine how insulting it would be to oneís date to have a romantic interlude interrupted and put on hold so the cellular user can speak to a buddy or ex-lover. 

ď Honey, you mind if I take this?Ö Hi , no Iím not doing anything important . . . Really?  . . . No way.  . . . I can be there in about an hour . . . No problem. Bye.Ē

 Having a cell phone can be handy, but donít let it interfere with your relationships with ďreal peopleĒ or with those important moments of solitude. What kind of twisted person wants to be reachable 24 hours a day? While I enjoy my job and value my friendships, I would not want my work or others', to interrupt my alone time or time with my family. If someone wants to get a hold of you, they can leave a message on your home phone or in an e-mail. The best way to avoid getting ďhookedĒ is to not start in the first place. That was the advice 30 years ago and it still applies today.

 Major Pain: 10 New-Millennium Maladies (A List of Other Technology Addictions)



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