Should I join the cellphone world?

Guest Column
St Petersburg Times
April 27, 2000
Newspaper Version
Honey, I am here at the post office and my car broke down. It is
making this weird noise …… no not that kind of weird noise, you/
silly-willy!" a woman presumably was calling her husband.

"I will be right there to rescue you, my sweet princess! I just
cannot find my shining armor, Arthur’s Excalibur and Sears
toolbox. Call AAA, just in case!" I think he replies.

She hangs up and calls AAA.

She now calls another number, "Mr. Boss, I am here at the post
office and I have FedExed your package. Sorry, Express mailed
the package! However, my car broke down. I think I will not be
able to make it to our lunch meeting with our clients – Burger
and Gerber."

She hangs up again and now speed dials her fourth call, "Sugar,
I am sorry we cannot get together for our afternoon rendezvous
at the motel. My car broke down and I am sure my husband will
get suspicious if I ask him to give me a ride to our secret place!"

Well, OK, I made up that last phone call and the speed dialing
part!

This scene played in the post office was a bigger hint than
anyone could give me that our family needs cell phone(s). I have
these recurrent thoughts - What if my spouse breaks down on
the deserted Bruce B. Downs? What if my daughter gets sick at
the school (or is it sick of school)? Maybe my spouse wants me
to buy shredded cheese for Tacos we are eating tonight. I can
take that call in the car, connect to priceline.com on my cell
phone, and get that cheese at half-price! That itself would pay
for my cell phone.

As you know, the devil’s advocates are not far!

On the same day, I made my weekend stop at Blockbuster. A
happily married man (I presume, any one calling his wife ‘Honey’
or by any other food name and allowed to do so by his wife, to
be happily married. Clearly, this is only a sufficient condition and
not a necessary condition for being happily married.) is on the
cell phone and one after another is reciting movie titles,
synopses, and actors to his wife.

"Honey, you do not like that movie either! Please tell me what
you want to see! Honey, Blairwitch Project 2 is not even out yet
in theaters! And remember, you got sick seeing the first one."

Having gone up and down the aisles, he has not only got his
daily exercise but also reached his limit of patience. As he makes
one last attempt to choose the movie of her choice, he shouts in
a whisper into his phone, "Frankly, my dear, I do not give a
damn! As God be my witness, I am not coming to Blockbuster
with my cell phone again." He picks the "Gone with the Wind"
video and stands in the long line to pay for renting it! (Now I
know my spouse would never call me in Blockbuster. Either we
go together to pick a movie or she goes to pick one for us. So
far, she has surprised me with great choices and a few that
went straight from the can to the video store seeing no
projector light at the theaters. That is part of life, surprises on
every corner.)

Now this episode at Blockbuster negated the effect of the post-
office incident. It brought me back to reality and I am now
weighing the pros and cons of buying a cell phone like a true
scientist. Do I really want a cell phone and become less of a
worrier but more of a cellmate of this useful device?

I am also thinking about the risks of using the cell phone in cars.
According to the guru of how technology such as videos, faxes
and cell phones is making car driving risky, Mark Burris of CUTR
(Center for Urban Transportation Research at USF) cites some
studies show the risk of collision can rise by more than 300%
just from talking on the phone.

I have always driven an automatic transmission car because
when I tried to learn driving using my friend Jeff’s stick-shift car,
he said, "You must be one of those one-dimensional guys – they
can do only one thing at a time". He was right; so using a cell
phone in the car while driving is going to make it two and I
better listen to my friend who was brave enough to teach me
how to drive.

What if I have a fender-bender while using the cell phone? I will
have an inanimate witness. Maybe I will declare my own cell
phone as a hostile witness! Maybe I should pull over if the
phone starts ringing and make myself a great target for rear end
collisions! As if we do not have many of those on Bruce B Downs.
Well, I could put a sticker – "This vehicle makes frequent stops
and I do not work for USPS".

In this year alone, it is estimated that 10,000 serious accidents
will take place due to cell phones and 100 people will die
because of these accidents. Some guy by the name of Bob at
the American Enterprise Institute even suggested that these
accidents and deaths outweigh the benefits to the economy. It
is the economy, stupid! If we can pardon transgressions of a
philandering president in a hot economy, what is the big deal
about 10,000 serious accidents and 100 deaths, if that puts
caviar on my table!

Do cell phones bring you confidence and a sense of importance?
It is not a status symbol anymore – there are more than 85
million cell phones in America, and that is almost one per three
Americans. However, the conversation on the cell phone could
be ego boosting. "Buy me 10,000 shares of Amazon.com", you
could say waiting in a checkout line, desperately trying to
impress a beautiful woman standing behind you! Then again,
she may wonder why you did not send your butler to the
grocery shop and bought shares of Amazon.com through the
state-of-art internet option on your cell phone.

Public places like libraries, churches, movie theaters, and
restaurants are agonizing about allowing cell phones in their
premises. Do I want to be a source of annoyance to other
people?

Recently, I took my eleven-year old daughter to see Mission
Impossible 2 (affectionately called MI2). Near the end of the
movie when the action is fast, a cell phone rings up. "What was
John Woo (director of MI2) thinking in getting a cell phone
ringing in the middle of an intense fight? He always has new
tricks up his sleeve!" I mutter under my breath. But, two seats
down, it is my neighbor picking up his cell phone.

"I am watching MI2. Tom Cruise is beating the %*$# out of this
guy!" he says.

Well, here I am feeling a little guilty of taking my 11-year old to a
PG-13 movie and my neighbor is giving an R-rated commentary
to his friend.

Cell phone users are quite candid about their conversations.
They may talk about their recent vasectomy or the toe fungus
they are trying so hard to get rid of. Is there any place or
conversation sacred and private anymore?

It seems that people do not mind or are not aware of talking
about their personal matters on the cell phone. There are three
main reasons for that and it took sociologists to do serious
research to find these reasons.

First, people are accustomed to talking louder on phones and
hence their conversations are more audible than private person-
to-person ones.

Second, since only one side of conversation is heard, people feel
more secure in talking about the most private matters.

Third, thanks to the old days of Oprah Winfrey and other talk
shows, people are more comfortable talking about their private
lives in public.

What did people do before cell phones became common? Well,
cell phones have revolutionized the business world. It saves
valuable time and makes communication easy and efficient. And,
since everybody is using them for business, like it or not, it has
become a necessary evil. Several friends of mine who travel for a
living are now getting sick of cell phones. Their private lives are
disrupted all the time and even their business lunches and
meetings are being encroached on. People want instant
answers and nobody is getting time to reflect.

In spite of all this, I need to come out of the stone ages and
meet the 21st century head on. As my friend, Inder says, "You
can live in a parallel universe for only so long!" And, I do get
concerned about my wife when she is running late and she
cannot get to the phone so easily. Yes, I also do get an
afterthought when she goes to the grocery shop and I get a
craving for a pint of the plain vanilla Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Or
when she is at Blockbuster, and I yearn to see "Grease" or
"Stand and Deliver" for the umpteenth time. This does not sound
right - I get to call her; what is in it for her! Well, she can always
call me and tell me how much she misses and loves me! Or, for
that matter she may want me to pick the shredded cheese for
the Tacos anyway.

So, by the time you read this, I may have joined the cell phone
world. If you see me pull over on Bruce B Downs, it must be my
cell phone ringing. And if you hear me bragging on the phone, it
is all true. The persons on the other side of my conversations
always keep me honest.

I promise to follow the cell phone etiquette as per the article on
100 ways to act and look like a gentlemen in the July 2000 issue
of GQ. The No. 8 way is "to keep the cell phone on vibrate
mode" and "No. 11 is not to keep a vibrating cell phone in the
front pocket". You may be wondering what the No. 1 way to act
and look like a gentlemen is - wearing a pinstriped suit and
accessories (do not include a cell phone) worth more than
$3,000. And that is a story for the next time.

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