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home : opinions : columns   April 29, 2016

10/9/2012 9:19:00 AM
Column: A cellular world

Tom Collins
NT Senior Reporter

The boys and I were reminiscing about old mishaps and the talk invariably turned to the disastrous trip to Cape Cod in summer ’88.
A sensible pack of college students would have borrowed a four-seater from one of his folks. But no: We had to cram all the bodies and luggage into a pair of two-seaters and agree to not get separated on the road.
Well, guess what happened? Somewhere in Connecticut we lost sight of each other. Amid all the seat-shuffling that went on, I had left my overnight kit in the other car.
“It worked out well for me,” Glenn remarked later, grinning. “I had your pillow and your blanket in my car.”
“Yeah, along with my anti-perspirant and my razor,” I replied, slightly less amused. We had had to cut the trip short.
And as I recall, it was 95 degrees that weekend and there was no air-conditioning in my ride. It got pretty aromatic in there, too; I showered for a half hour when I got home.
This trip down memory lane came up at a 40th birthday bash where we made dinner reservations on somebody’s smart phone. As we punched away for a table, it was observed how cell phones would have come in handy on our ill-planned safari.
Indeed, if we’d owned cellular telephones in those days — the technology then was primitive and expensive — many of our youthful misadventures might have ended less painfully and less fragrantly.
Yet I’m no longer convinced that life is better overall with cell phones than without them. Having had one of my own for about 10 years now, I recognize major advantages but also observe societal changes that trouble me. 
Make no mistake: Cellular technology enables me to do my job better and to do once-unthinkable things. I’ve posted breaking news bulletins and even snapped a few news photos with an iPhone slightly bigger than my wallet.
But there are a few negatives to which I, and perhaps most of us, could attest:
n America has become less polite: We all have stories about dinners and quiet moments interrupted by people on their phones. A guy at my church even took a call from his pew during the homily, prompting a withering look from the priest — who showed a lot more restraint than I would have.
n The roads are more dangerous: Whenever I spot a driver failing to signal or drifting over the center line, I look to see if he or she is on the phone. More often than not, the answer is yes. I once opposed an outright ban on cell phones at the wheel; I’ve changed my mind.
n Young people don’t think on their feet: A retiree recently complained to me how his younger colleagues would call him in a jam asking for advice, even when he was miles away. He attributed this lack of critical thinking to cell phones; they grew up with instant access to mom and dad and thus sprouted an electronic umbilical cord.
n Our interpersonal skills have declined: A friend let her daughter hold a sleepover and grew suspicious at the silence from the girl’s bedroom. Upon checking, she didn’t find anybody passing a joint; they just spent the time texting each other, not talking, from 3 feet away.
We have fewer stranded motorists; but we have more accidents waiting to happen. We have fewer lost children; but they show less ability to stand on their own two feet. The phones are there for us in a perceived pinch; but our sense of urgency trumps decorum and etiquette.
Are we really better off?

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or

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