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Reluctantly, I must enter the cell phone age

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 5, 2002


Any day now I will cave in and allow one more creeping pseudopod of the great technology amoeba to slip under the doorway of my life.

(Neat metaphor, huh?)

I will probably buy a cell phone. Not for me but for my wife.

Honest.

I detest cell phones almost as much as I detest the people who are interminably talking on them in loud voices in restaurants or in movie theaters or while they are supposed to be doing things like waiting on me in stores.

Last year I was on a flight that was delayed because the guy behind me would not comply with a flight attendant's multiple requests to turn the thing off. All of us in the surrounding seats knew much more than we wanted to about his conversation, which was with one of his kids about what time to leave for school and what movies the kid could go see.

It finally got to a point of him hanging up, being removed from the flight or being pummeled. I was in the pummeling faction, but he finally turned it off, scowling unhappily.

More than a couple of people I know are literally addicted to the things, spending more on their monthly bill than crackheads spend on crack. I know many people whom I like a lot and a few whom I love deeply, none of whom I want to talk to $400 per month worth. Heck, you could get a nice motel room for six nights for that kind of money, have more fun and be much less irritating.

I have reached a stage in life where I have perfected unavailability into an art form and really don't want to change that.

But living in different cities makes communications a must, and my wife drives long distances sometimes at night, and I'd rather see her getting roadside assistance from AAA than your friendly local carjacker.

And, I have to admit, I have found the blasted things handy a time or two, including once when I needed to make sure an emergency room I was headed to was on my insurance plan so I could wait an hour and a half to be only moderately overcharged rather than insanely overcharged.

And Sept. 11 changed a lot of things, including our outlook on communications.

Much of what we know about what happened on the three doomed aircraft central to the horror of that day, we know from cell phone conversations with passengers aboard the planes. There have been hostage situations where invaluable information reached law enforcement from cell phones.

And how often have we had to look at video footage of the faces of terrified parents streaming toward the site of a school shooting or fire or other disaster. A simple, "Mom, I'm all right" would not only alleviate a lot of that pain, but leave emergency officials free to do things other than crowd control.

School officials in Citrus County where, as in Pasco, an unofficial "dont-ask-don't-tell" reality is still contrary to a policy that bans the phones even being carried on school property, recently voted to continue the ban. Hernando County, earlier this year, adopted a more liberal policy prohibiting them from being used other than before or after school, during lunch and, presumably, in emergencies. A similar policy will go into effect in Pasco next year.

Of course kids shouldn't be allowed to use cell phones in class, any more than they should allow electric hair dryers or electronic games and, although cell phones and beepers play a role in drug dealing, their legitimate uses (and I sigh as I admit this) far outnumber their illegal applications.

And so I find I must modify my former stance on cell phone users, that they should all be forced to eat their instruments if caught using them in public or while driving.

And, I guess, if yuppies want to wear those little near-invisible headsets and stand around public places ostentatiously appearing to be holding pompous dialogues with themselves, it's really not my place to sneak up behind them, grab the wire running up from their belt-clipped babble-boxes and jerk, hard.

But I can still dream.

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