Cell phones: Hate 'em or love 'em -- or both

More than any other high-tech device popularized in recent years -- except perhaps computers -- cell phones have dramatically transformed society and our relationships with other people. Mobile phones have redefined who we are, and they often bri...

More than any other high-tech device popularized in recent years -- except perhaps computers -- cell phones have dramatically transformed society and our relationships with other people. Mobile phones have redefined who we are, and they often bring out the worst in us.

  • While driving to work last month, our youngest son's car was rear-ended by a man driving and talking on his cell phone at the same time. Immediately after the impact, the man slowly got out of his car to check on the damage, all the while continuing his phone conversation. First things first, I guess. Not a word of inquiry to learn if Corey or his two passengers were injured; both his friends are in therapy for back and neck injuries.
  • Last week, in a theater not located in the Twin Ports, five teenagers at various times were talking loudly on their cell phones during a movie 50 of us were trying to enjoy. One kid was on his phone for more than a half-hour straight. Finally, a theater employee told the young man to shut off his phone or leave. Thankfully, he left.
  • The Milwaukee public schools will soon ban the possession of cell phones in classrooms. The superintendent said it was a "safety issue," because, according to the Associated Press, "there have been incidents at nine schools . . . that involved adults responding to cell phone calls (from their children) and attacking people at the schools."
  • Two teenagers in a Duluth high school cafeteria lunch line were loudly talking to each other on their cell phones -- even though they were separated by just a few feet.
  • A businessman at a Cleveland airport gate was talking (actually, "yelling" is a better word) on his cell phone, sharing information with a friend. It was easy to learn at which hotel he was staying, his cell phone number, business phone number and e-mail address. The difficulty in trying to ignore him was that he was sitting next to me in a crowded gate area and I was not about to give up my seat to accommodate his conversation.
  • A California man was severely burned last week when his cell phone spontaneously ignited in his pants pocket.

Perhaps you have already guessed that, generally, I do not like those go-anywhere-talk-anytime devices.
But here's a confession: I own one and I'm paying something like a half-million dollars a month for the privilege of getting a few hundred minutes. (OK, that's an exaggeration. It just seems that expensive).

Cell phones are useful for urgent and emergency matters -- for example, The Star Tribune reports that primarily for safety reasons, 25 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 12 have cell phones -- but mostly the phones are disruptive.

And because many folks do not know how or when to properly use cell phones, lawmakers are getting into the act to control their use.

One proposed law comes from State Rep. Mike Jaros, who's making another attempt this legislative session to control the use of cell phone handsets by drivers.


House Bill 41 is simple: Drivers can talk on their cell phones while driving in Minnesota, but not on hand-held units. It's not a new idea; hand-held cell phone use by drivers is banned in New Jersey, the District of Columbia and New York. But in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and millions of cell phones, the idea has not taken hold.

Jaros, who does not own a cell phone ("because I don't need one"), told me last week that talking into a hand-held cell phone while driving is too dangerous.

He cited a recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine, indicating that more vehicular accidents are caused by drivers using cell phones than by drunk drivers. (No numbers on how many accidents were caused by cell phone users who were also driving drunk, but it can't be good).

Last legislative session, Jaros' proposal got halfway through the DFL-controlled Senate, but it did not even get a committee hearing in the GOP-run House. Isn't a bicameral legislature wonderful?

This year Jaros thinks the House, now controlled by the DFL, will be more receptive to his idea, although success is not assured because "some of my colleagues are the worse abusers."

When a similar comment appeared in the Star Tribune several weeks ago, "a lot of my colleagues were not very happy with me," he said, although some legislators privately admitted they do a lot of legislative business on their phones while driving to and from St. Paul.

And now there are even more dangerous drivers: folks who text message while driving. Half of drivers owning cell phones capable of text messaging admit they have typed messages while driving, according to a recent survey.

Finally, it's puzzling that most cell phone companies are not supporting the proposed ban. Says Jaros: "They could make a lot of money selling hands-free units."


Ralph Doty's can be reached at .

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