Should I Finally Join the Cell Phone World?

Should I join the cellphone world?

Autar Kaw
Guest Column
St Petersburg Times
April 27, 2000

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 a cell phone.  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 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 anyone 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”, 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 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 a 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 gentleman 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 gentleman is – wearing a pinstriped suit and accessories (does not include a cell phone) worth more than $3,000. And that is a story for the next time.

CITATION: Autar Kaw, “Should I Join the Cellphone World”, Guest column, St. Petersburg Times, April 27, 2000, last accessed at