Cell phones first began popping up in the early 1990s. Cute, brick-like objects weighing two-and-a-half pounds, they seemed to be perfect companions for long road trips. However, over time, the cell phone underwent a makeover, shrinking in size and growing in capabilities. Initially purchased by electronic aficionados and early adopters of technology, cell phones spread rapidly through the world’s populace, with approximately 5.6 billion phones in use by 2010. The question, “Why would I want a cell phone?” quickly became, “How can I live without one?”
The manner in which cell phones increasingly embed themselves into the lives of their owners is unmatched in the natural or electronic world. One company, Nokia, has even patented the technology to merge humans with their phones by embedding magnetic tattoos under the skin.
Unfortunately, there can always be too much of a good thing, and this can easily be said for cell phones.
Cell Phones: Blessing or Curse?
Some historians consider the cell phone one of the most important inventions of the 20th century, along with the Internet, the automobile, computers, incandescent light bulbs, television, and the airplane. In fact, a survey by Tesco Mobile ranked the iPhone above the flushing toilet.
Certainly, mobile phones have changed the way we live and communicate with each other, instantly eliminating distances and physical obstacles that had previously been insurmountable. Who will ever forget the brave passengers on United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001 and Todd Beamer’s last words over his cell phone, “Let’s roll!” or the poignant story of Kelly James making a last call to his wife and children from the frozen heights of Mount Hood in 2006? Cell phones make such communications possible.
Too Much of a Good Thing
At the same time, nearly 3 in 10 adults turns the cell off just to get a break according to a 2011 report from the Pew Research Center. Annoyance with others and their use of cell phones is increasingly common.
Have you ever experienced:
- Waiting at a green light while the person ahead of you continued his or her phone conversation?
- Being disturbed by the loud voice of a person talking on a cell phone in a public place?
- Sitting in a movie that was interrupted by a ringtone to the tune of “Bad to the Bone”?
- Being summoned by the office on your personal cell during a much-needed vacation?
Instances like these occur thousands of times a day across the world with 5.9 billion mobile subscribers. That is more than 87% of the world population, a sign of the cell phone’s popularity and its nuisance potential. Like many disruptive technologies, cell phones are simultaneously liberating and enslaving.
According to a study released by the National Safety Council, 28% of the 1.6 million annual traffic accidents occur when people talk on cellphones or send text messages while driving. Even walking while talking on a mobile phone can be dangerous – “distracted walking” was responsible for more than 1,000 emergency room visits in 2008.
The ubiquity of cell phones also impacts our emotional well-being. Professionals seeking an escape from the confines of a busy office find themselves instead tethered to a cell phone 24/7. Children and young adults sometimes prefer electronic communication than live interaction with their friends and families. The host of problems this creates ranges from dangerous distractions, social ineptitude, and an epidemic lack of relaxation. Cell phones are indispensable, inexpensive, and inescapable.
Domesticating the Cell Phone
Since cell phones will be with us in the foreseeable future, it is important that we use them to our benefit, eliminating the undesirable consequences of their use while improving their service. Here are tips to get use out of your cell phone without constantly interrupting others.
1. Turn the Phone Off
Never forget that you are the one in control. If you are constantly interrupted during your leisure activities or any other time that you simply don’t want to be available, turn the phone off. You may find that being inaccessible is a blessing in disguise: Problems get resolved without your intervention, work goes on as before, and you gain a more reasonable balance in your life.
2. Turn the Ringer Off
If you can’t stand the idea of being totally unavailable, leave the phone on, but turn off the ringer. Rely on the vibrating mechanism to alert you to incoming calls or simply check your screen from time to time. While you may still be at the beck and call of your telephonic sentry, those around you will appreciate the peace and quiet.
3. Don’t Drive and Dial
The consequences of distracted driving are more automobile crashes, which increases proportionately to the increased usage of cell phones. While the best approach is to eliminate all phone usage by drivers, it is not a realistic solution. Since we are determined to drive and talk, implementing the following suggestions can make you less vulnerable to an accident:
- Use a Hands-Free Device in the Car. Newer cars are often equipped with Bluetooth devices where sound is routed from the phone to the automobile speakers.
- Only Use the Phone for Incoming Calls. Incoming calls can be quickly answered, while making an outgoing call is usually more complicated and requires more attention.
- Never Text While Driving. It is a conundrum that the majority of American drivers are willing to text while driving, but feel unsafe riding in a car in which the driver sends and receives text messages.
4. Prioritize Human Contact
How many of us are guilty of turning our attention away from the person in front of us to focus on an incoming call or text? Answering the phone blatantly signals that the phone and caller have a greater priority than the person standing in front of you. If such occasions happen regularly, the phone user may find him- or herself alone with only the phone for a friend.
Cell phones are not substitutes for real people, but tools to improve communications with those people. Sadly, however, this is a truism that many people seem too distracted by their phones to notice.
5. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Two major complaints against cell phone usage is the persistent presence of intrusive ring tones and users who seem to shout in their phones, oblivious to those around them. No space is safe – movie theaters, church naves, hospital rooms – and no activity is immune. Indiscriminate cell phone usage has led to countless confrontations and even violence. These events, which can be avoided by practicing common courtesy, continue to occur despite public admonishments, pleas, prohibitions, and penalties.
Many observers worry that legislatures, reacting to the rising chorus of complaints about cell phones, will enact restrictive laws about their use, jeopardizing their overall benefits to the populace as a whole. The way to ensure such legislative bills are not introduced is by being aware, courteous cell phone users.
While the number of cell phone users may be reaching saturation, the ways in which cell phones can affect our lives positively and negatively are still emerging. Companies will continue to introduce new applications and features designed to make devices simpler to use, expand their capabilities into all sectors of our daily activities, and bring even greater information to our fingertips.
At the same time, cell phones are likely to become more intrusive and distracting, aggressively demanding more of our attention to the detriment of the time we spend elsewhere. There is hope, however, that the cell phone will become civilized, just as the wolf led to the family dog, wild maize became the ear of corn we eat today, and the atomic bomb became a nuclear reactor powering the lights of cities around the world.
How do you feel about ubiquitous cell phone usage and its impact upon our quality of life?