July 12, 1999

Cell Phones... Blessing or Curse?

This is what got me to thinking.. one evening last week I was among a bunch of parents watching our kids play (city league) baseball, and one of the mothers received a call. I couldn't hear much of what she was saying, but "Oh shit!" was a big part of it. She didn't leave (physically, anyway) but made a few more calls and just waited for the game to end.

Like everything, I suppose, it's a trade-off.. if you're stranded on the highway at night, a phone is a great thing to have (provided you're in range, of course) but how many accidents are caused by drivers using phones? (Phones don't cause accidents, people do..) Business people find them indispensable.. but only since they've been invented, of course. In business, though, one can't be left behind technologically and people demand IMMEDIATE communication now so there's really no choice.

The personal use of cell phones seems to have exploded in the last year or two. What used to be a novelty (Why does she have a phone? Doesn't her husband trust her?) is now standard (Where's your phone? Why can't you remember to charge it at night!)

Suddenly, having an answering machine with remote access to messages isn't good enough.. we must be on constant call for our children and aging parents. The fact that this is more often abused than used is largely ignored. My own son has called me to ask if the dishwasher is clean (really!).. the phones constantly ring during bowling league, and I never knew there were so many helpless people out there.

Of course there ARE real emergencies and an emergency phone is wonderful if you're a teenager out on a date. However, more parents seem to be equipping their children with pagers, now. The kids think this is the height of COOL.. their friends can reach them all the time! I wonder when they'll twig to the fact that a pager is nothing more than a giant, floating, invisible umbilical cord. I would be EMBARRASSED to carry a pager as a kid, and if I felt the need to fit either of my children with one, I'd sooner ground them until they grew up!

Then too, there are people who are technological jinxes.. the people who only have to sit down at the computer, and the computer pitches a fit and immediately freezes. My husband is like that with my phone. One time I made him take it, and he did call home with it, but then neglected to press "end" and the darn thing stayed open for 20 minutes! Another time he had it and it refused to work.. we got the operator saying the client was unavailable when we called. This has never happened before or since. He now refuses to use it, and I tend to agree.. I don't want him anywhere near it!

There's also the one feature of ALL electronic devices that most people don't consider using.. the "off" switch. I'm allowed to have times when I'm Just. Not. Available. They can leave a message on my home machine or call someone else. I'm not that much of a control freak that I'll sacrifice my need for peace and tranquility when it arises.

Sometimes, however, there is more peace of mind with the phone turned ON and tucked safely in my handbag. Most of the time it does NOT ring, and when my thoughts turn to "maybe they need me" I can tell myself to relax and enjoy the shopping, the luncheon, the baseball game, even the dreaded meeting, and that's what tips the balance in favour of having a cell phone! I guess I've come full circle from the teenager willing the phone to ring!

[Strange related fact: According to CNN (so it MUST be accurate?) sometime in 1998 the number of cell phone lines in Finland (of all places) surpassed the number of wired phone lines! I wonder if it's a cultural thing or a geographical thing.. or both??]

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