A nation locked in its cells
Here's a stat that will shock no one: Cell phone users in the United States have increased from 34 million a decade ago to more than 203 million, which comes very close to fulfilling the Supreme Court's one man-one cell phone mandate. World-wide, there are an estimated two billion cell phones, which means an unfortunate 4.5 billion people go to bed every night without cell-phoning. No other recent invention has so quickly been embraced -- and scorned, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. According to a 2004 MIT survey, the cell phone is the invention people hate the most but can't live without, beating out the alarm clock and the television. Maybe even the Ron Popeil Pocket Fisherman.
In a 2005 University of Michigan study, 83 percent said cell phones have made life easier, choosing it over the Internet (76 percent). But an additional 60 percent said they find cell phones somewhat irritating when used in public. Sadly, the irritating cell phonies never seem to participate in this kind of survey or read articles describing how irritating they are.
'I'm, like, having sex'
Perhaps the only public place yet to be violated by a cell phone conversation is the confessional, but we're open to evidence to the contrary as long as it doesn't violate canon law. According to a 2005 survey by BBDO Worldwide, an advertising agency, 15 percent of Americans have interrupted sex to answer a cell phone (whereas 0 percent have interrupted a cell phone call to have sex). In a recent ABC News poll, 87 percent said annoying cell phone use was the bad behavior they encountered the most. But as far as behavior that upset them the most, annoying cell phone calls were behind overall rude behavior and foul language.
Maybe hope is on the way, though. In a survey by Let's Talk, a mobile retail company, 38 percent of 2,119 people (names available on request) said it was fine to use the cell phone in the bathroom -- down from 62 percent in 2003. Only 2 percent say that using a cell phone in a movie or theater is acceptable, compared with 11 percent in 2000. Cell phoning in restaurants and public transportation also are slipping in approval, down to 21 percent and 45 percent, respectively. But there's growing acceptance of phone use in supermarkets ("Honey, is a Vidalia onion red?"), with two of three people deeming it OK.
The other hand is used for gesturing
In August 2004, Washington, D.C., enacted a law banning driving while holding a cell phone -- one of the first in the country. Last year, 6,018 tickets were issued to D.C. violators. While there's no data to show a reduction in accidents, studies reveal that hand-held phone use decreased from 6.1 percent of drivers to 3.5 percent after the law went into effect, The Washington Post reports. There seems to be no question that the cell phone is a major distraction. A study by the Insurance Institute said those who cell phone and drive were four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to cause injury. And the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that while fatigue was the most frequent cause of accidents, taking one's eyes off the road was second. The longer the eyes were away, the more likely a crash.
At least 25 states are considering restrictions on cell phones, many aimed at young drivers. Pennsylvania is not among them. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and the District have the most restrictive laws, the Post said. Last year, Maryland prohibited drivers younger than 18 from using any cell phone. But an argument is growing that laws requiring hands-free devices might actually make things worse by encouraging drivers to talk longer. And there's more to this than cell phones. "The real issue is driving while distracted," D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey told the Post. "The cell phone has just been the poster child."
Don't leave home without it
The BBDO survey found that 75 percent of cell phone owners had it turned on and within reach during their waking hours, 59 percent wouldn't think of lending their cell phone to a friend for a day, 26 percent said it was more important to go home to retrieve a cell phone than a wallet. A study by Telephia, a mobile industry tracker, found that Americans averaged 13 hours a month -- with users ages 18 to 24 racking up close to 22 hours. (We can hear parents yelling, "That figure is way too low!")
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the most popular non-voice feature is text messaging, with 61 million users having tried it at least once. An additional 46 million have tried mobile gaming, followed by 33 million who take photos. People also are learning to use cell phones in a variety of ways not entirely foreseen by cell phone carriers and manufacturers. According to the BBDO study, 44 percent of Americans have found ways to flirt using their cell phones, such as through text messages. In a Sprint survey, almost two of every three people used their cell phone backlight to look for something in the dark, mostly keyholes and walkways. This is a use The Morning File would like to endorse for all.
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