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Sunday, April 21
The Indiana Daily Student

Can you hear me now?

Cell phones both a convenience and nuisance for students, faculty

Saved by the Bell, creators saw it coming.\nIn a sitcom that was the embodiment of fashion for the early 90's -- complete with stonewash jeans, bad perms, leggings, banana clips and Zubaz pants -- there was one accessory ahead of its time: the cell phone. The creators even predicted its unnecessary use and disruption in school.\nOn several occasions, Zach Morris' cell phone not only went off in the middle of class, but he picked it up much to the calculated ire of Mr. Belding, who slid over to the yuppie-in-training and confiscated it.\nCell phone use in school has become almost identical, with a few minor tweaks.\nFirst, few students would be brave enough to actually answer their phone in class. Most hunch down and quickly rummage through their bag to turn it off before their professor or classmates get angry.\nSecond, the average handheld cell phone is no longer the size of a small animal. It's lost considerable weight -- dropping from two pounds to six ounces since its first circulation in 1979.\nThird, the odds of only one student having a phone in class today are virtually nonexistent. In 1994, there were 16 million cellular service subscriptions in the United States. Today, there are 115 million.\nAnd fourth, cell phones are no longer a symbol of social status. They have become commonplace in society. Cellular service subscriptions now exceed the birthrate, with 40,000 people subscribing a day.\nPrivate lives become public knowledge whenever and wherever people feel like conducting their conversations, be it in the classroom, church, theater or private and mass transportation.\nThe conveniences and problems cell phones create have become an immediate matter of contention among legislators, safety commissions and society.\nHow about on campus?\nSome used to regard Walkmans as a tool to tune out the rest of the world. Now they've been accepted as just another device to keep us entertained on our way to class. \nThe acceptance of cell phones, on the other hand, might take a little longer because they are vocal and can be considered invasive and irritating to surrounding non-users. \nVerizon commercials are a dead-on depiction of people walking around trying to get good reception. Erratic signals can result in people plugging a finger over their ear and half-hollering "Can you hear me now?" Even if the person on the other end of the conversation can't, everyone else can. \nJunior Shannan Peterson said while cell phones are great for emergencies, she can't stand their excessive use around campus.\n"No college student has anything so important to say that it can't wait until they get back to their dorm," Peterson said.\nAnd cell phones are no longer just for public use. A big trend with college students is to forego a home line in favor of a cell phone, that way they don't have to pay an extra phone bill or squabble over whom made what call. \nAccording to wire.com, cell phone usage is expected to surpass home phone ownership in 2005, possibly rendering land lines unnecessary. \n"Cell phones are more convenient," senior Brian Sheikh said. "You don't have to worry about being at home when someone calls. You don't have to plan your schedule around it, so you can still get other stuff done."\nHow about in the car?\nSixty percent of people who get phones for their children cite security and emergency calls as the reason for their purchase, The Yankee Group research firm estimated . However, this "safety measure" can be fatally counteractive when used in a moving vehicle.\nA 1997 study in the New England Journal of Medicine said the chance of an accident is four times greater when drivers use a handheld cell phone and that the use could be as debilitating as driving drunk.\nSenior Travis Durnal said the only time using a cell phone in his car has created a problem for him is when he's dialing, but even that has become obsolete since he got a voice-activated dial-up service.\nDurnal said he isn't opposed to legislation against cell phones in cars, so long as speaker phones or headsets could still be used.\nBut accidents are not usually caused by having one hand tied up with the phone or because drivers couldn't perform an emergency maneuver. Most accidents are caused by inattention during routine driving conditions, according to the Fatal Analysis Reporting System. \nIt's difficult to keep track of how many accidents are caused by cell phones because only 20 states have police forms that include cell phone use as the cause of distraction.\nThe Harvard Center for Risk Analysis did a crash-risk factor study in 1999, estimating that in 2000 there would be between 300,000 to 650,000 crashes due to cell phones.\nHow about in court?\nCell phones have created issues that demand legislation. Proposals and rulings have been made that are being debated on the basis of a user's right to privacy versus personal safety and common courtesy.\nThe penalty in Singapore for using a cell phone while driving is immediate confiscation of the phone, a $1,000 fine or six months in jail (or both), and getting 12 demerit points or having your license revoked.\nThe penalty in the United States is considerably less severe -- a fine.\nIn New York, it's $100 for a first violation, $200 for a second and $500 for any subsequent violations.\nAccording to an article in Newsday, $50 fines could also be given for using cell phones during a movie or theater performance, if the Manhattan City Council has their way. \nA council report noted cell phone use has become so common and disruptive that actors, like Laurence Fishburne and Stanley Tucci, have stopped their performances.\nThe quiet convenience of vibrate is typically a person's best alternative to a ring, but it can be difficult to remember to turn it on.\nAnd soon, for a $1 to $5 fee, people will be able to download a ring tone off the internet or even create their own. This will make it possible to distinguish one's phone ring from someone else's and to have the Mickey Mouse Club theme or "Thong Song" go off in the middle of class.\nProfessor Robin King said she has seen many untimely incidents of cell phones ringing in the non-college environment. One went off in a funeral service she attended several weeks ago, and she has seen it happen during business presentations.\n"From a real world perspective, it happens all the time," King said. "In the business world, it's equally as distracting and frowned upon -- unless someone gives advance notice of a call. If anything, it gets worse later on in life"

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