The prevalence of cell phones in American culture shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. Cell phone use has risen in the United States from approximately 91,000 users in 1985 to 250,000,000 in 2007 and in 2009 was somewhere in the neighborhood of 280,000,000, which means that approximately 90% of Americans own cell phones. And Americans aren’t the only ones. According to a February 2010 article on www.cbsnews.com, there are approximately 4.6 billion cell phone subscriptions worldwide and that number is expected to surpass five billion by the end of the year. I had to wonder, what are the advantages and disadvantages of 90% of Americans (New York Times, May 13, 2010) and nearly 85% of the world’s population using cell phones?
I figure there had to be quite a few advantages for so many people to have cell phones, so I asked around. The number one answer I found was the convenience. Peoples’ ability to be reached at all times, able to reach others at all times, and how fast communication with others has become. Can’t reach someone by phone? Send a text. Text messages are delivered almost instantaneously and there’s no need to leave a message and wait for a call back anymore. Many others cited having a cell phone in case of emergency. According to Pew Internet, in 2006, 74% of cell phone users reported using their cell phones in emergency situations. While cell phone bills are usually not lower than landline bills alone, the long distance cost is significantly less for cell phone users.
Long distance costs are included in the overall minute usage for most cell phone subscriptions, whereas many landline providers charge by the minute for long distance calls. As cell phone technology advances, so do the tools available to cell phone users. A growing number of users report using their phones for such things as listening to music, checking email, keeping their daily calendars, making grocery lists, and even keeping track of daily calorie intake. (New York Times, May 13, 2010). There are many organizational tools available on the new generation of “smart phones” as well as many different navigational tools. GPS locators in phones are subscribed to by many parents of underage cell phone users.
Cell phones can also be used as cameras and video recorders and those photos and videos are easily emailed to others or uploaded to sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Entertainment is even making the list of advantages to having a cell phone these days. As I mentioned previously, users can listen to music on their cell phones, but it doesn’t stop there. Technology has advanced so much that users can now watch television shows and movies on their phones.
So it seems I was correct about how many advantages must be out there, but what about the downside? The very first thought I had was about the ban on cell phones in schools and what a huge disruption cell phones must be in the classroom. That issue is just part of the larger issue of the widespread distraction cell phones cause. Everywhere you go you see cell phones in use – in the coffee shop, the movie theater, the grocery store, even church, and while driving. Going back to the cost of cell phones, while heavy long distance users may notice a relief in their long distance costs, cell phones are still on average much more expensive to operate than a landline. There are costs for air time usage, text message usage, broadband usage, music purchases, games purchases, and app purchases, not to mention the dreaded overage costs. Some cell phone companies charge as much as sixty cents per minute for every minute of air time over your allotted plan.
Add that to long contracts and hefty fees for cancelling contracts and cell phones become quite an expensive venture. The ever-increasing technology is adding to these costs as well. Newer, smarter phones released every few months are of course attractive to users, but on top of the cost of upgrading phones on a regular basis is the added cost of the service provider’s data package. In order to utilize these newer smart phones, the data package is a requirement and on average costs something like an additional $30 per month. Aside from financial impact, what about health impact? There seems to be quite a bit of worry over the radio frequency radiation given off by cell phones and cell phone towers. There is much argument about whether or not this sort of radiation is of any real concern, but according to www.controlyourimpact.com, there are many very serious health concerns to think about.
There are reports that cell phone use can cause disturbances in sleep and concentration, fatigue, and headache. According to a BBC News report (www.news.bbc.co.uk), “Cell phones damage key brain cells and could trigger the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease . . . Researchers have found that radiation from cell phone handsets damages areas of the brain associated with learning, memory and movement.” Reports linking cell phones to sterility in men, eye tissue damage, and increased chances of depression and cancer have also been published.
In researching the negative effects of cell phones, I happened across some even more sinister effects. Take “sexting” – “the act of sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photos, or images via cell phone, computer, or other digital device. These messages, photos, and images are then often being further disseminated through email and internet-based social networking websites well beyond their original intended recipients.” (www.mass.gov) There have been hundreds of reported cases of sexting – a handful of those cases involving suicide and/or sex offense criminal charges such as child pornography in the cases involving high school students. According to www.msnbc.com, 39% of high schools students admit to sending these types of messages and 48% say they’ve received them.
Another very dangerous habit Americans have developed is talking on their cell phone while driving. “You have four times the risk of being in a crash if you’re on the phone while driving.” (www.myoptumhealth.com) What’s even scarier are the results of a Car and Driver Magazine study that found texting while driving is much worse than driving while intoxicated. The results of this study showed that unimpaired, it took the test driver .54 seconds to brake when indicated to do so. Add four feet to that time for legally drunk drivers, thirty six feet for drivers reading email and seventy feet for drivers reading a text. (http://www.cnbc.com/id/31545004/site/14081545). According to a report by the National Safety Council, 28% of accidents involve talking or texting on cell phones.
I couldn’t help but notice that the risks seem to outweigh the benefits considerably, but I also admit that I’m still addicted to my cell phone. There has been some state regulation of cell phone use while driving, but there is little restriction of their use elsewhere and I think there needs to be much more, although, I’m not certain how feasible that would be to accomplish. At any rate, we all make our own choices and we all need to make smarter choices about our cell phone use.