Monday, November 14, 2005

Cell Phones Are The New Cigarettes

There seem to be almost no circumstances under which some people won’t use a cell phone – while watching a movie at the theater, while seated on a public commode, or over a romantic dinner, for examples.

Now one enterprising young woman has introduced a creative new variant: talking on the phone while robbing banks. I certainly hope they’re important calls.

One reason for the ubiquity of cell phones is that, like cigarettes, they are an addiction.

There was a time when Americans lit up cigarettes whenever and wherever they pleased. It was normal to encounter smoking in a hospital, a plane, a restaurant or a coworker’s cubicle.

Eventually Americans started to clear the haze out of their heads and realize that unfettered puffing was not such a good idea. Bans on smoking at work and in public places soon began.

Is it coincidental that cell phone use went on the rise at around the same time smoking went into decline?

Probably. I certainly can’t prove any correlation.

But, that said, Americans have lamentably replaced one inconsiderate and unhealthy vice with another.

Just watch how people go right for their cell phones the moment they get off a plane, and compare that to how people used to go right for a cigarette when they got off the plane (before smoking was banned not just in planes but in airports, too).

Notice also how a person’s trusty flip-phone is always at arm’s reach, either on their body or conveniently placed on the table before them, in the same spot that used to be reserved for their pack of nico-sticks.

You don’t have to smoke to get lung cancer. And you don’t have to use a cell phone to suffer from its effects either. Many a motorist has been involved in a car accident as the result of someone else’s stupidity; let’s call this secondhand cell.

Some say hands-free driving cell phone laws, like smoking bans, are unnecessarily “intrusive.” But they would never have been necessary had “addicts“ exercised common sense and common courtesy. Cigarettes were a nail in the coffins of those two virtues. Now cell phones are vying for the honor.

And cell phones have claimed another casualty cigarettes did not: our undivided attention.

Today people will continue to talk on a cell phone – loudly – while having lunch with a friend, checking out groceries or conducting a bank transaction (legal or otherwise). The real, flesh-and-blood people they’re ostensibly interacting with seem superfluous.

It’s worrisome that people growing up now never knew a time without cell phones. I imagine I might come off like an old curmudgeon giving an “In my day…” speech when criticizing a cell phone user for being rude. That’s unfortunate.

Distinguished news anchors once read the top stories with a lit cigarette in their hand, or one burning in an ashtray. Today we look with a mixture of amusement and shock at vintage television and movies in which characters smoke freely. That’s progress.

Cigarette companies used to sponsor many a popular television show. Now the TV tobacco ad is an anachronism. We never see The Salem 100’s Survivor Reunion Special or Lucky Strikes Presents Dangerous Housewives.

While I don’t anticipate a ban on TV cell phone ads, perhaps one day we’ll at least shake our heads at rude cell phone-using characters in 90s sitcoms.

Let’s get some momentum going on this social stigma.

No comments: