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Published: Friday, 7/13/2007

Growing culture of cell phone dependency verges on insanity

EVER feel totally out of sync with the world around you? No punch line, just pondering. It feels like sitting in a giant arena with everyone doing "the wave" and you're the only one who doesn't get it. Lately I've been experiencing that sensation in the midst of the raging commercialization of cell phones and their growing gadgetry.

The recent euphoria over Apple's newly introduced iPhone completely escapes me. But then, so does the whole glorified culture of cell phone dependency. I must be the only one who doesn't get it. Why people would camp out for hours in front of a store selling iPhones just to be first in line when the doors open is beyond me. They're obsessed with owning a phone packed with cool features that they can play with for hours.

It's a phone, people.

We have crossed over into madness here but the craziness is so pervasive nobody notices. We have gone from humans embracing mobile phone technology for the convenience and occasional necessity of communicating on the go, to zoned-out, talk-a-thon addicts preoccupied with devices that boast digital cameras, multimedia centers, memory upgrades, MP3 players, - and a phone that comes standard.

Somewhere along the way, we were also led to believe that we should be talking all the time to everyone we know and their brother. It's a disturbing habit on foot and a dangerous one while driving. But once we were hopelessly hooked on our ever-evolving cell phones, the companies selling them faster than Instant Messaging reeled in a mass market of suckers.

These days, nobody can have JUST a phone, they have to have a fully loaded status symbol with text, picture, video, music, navigation, and more. It's nuts.

Apple pushed the mobile phone metamorphosis way ahead with its must-have mini-computer/phone. The iPhone's hefty price tag of $499 or $599, depending on options, is apparently no deterrent to those who can't live without a cell phone that lets them download music, watch TV, play video, take pictures, edit documents, and send constant messages in hip shorthand.

The cell phones possess them, not the other way around. Many who can't bear to be without them, lest they lose their life-affirming connections, opt for hands-free headphones that allow them to multitask while they yammer on to no one in particular. The popular ear gear enables Bluetooth users to become oblivious to their nearby surroundings. They look like walking, talking oddities, utterly unaware of how jarring their seemingly solo conversations are to otherwise occupied humans.

Often folks who THINK they're so connected by way of the latest cell phone gimmickry and accessories, are really disconnected from life right in front of them. They're the ones standing next to you in line or waiting at the airport talking out loud into a headset or chic cell without the slightest inhibition or common courtesy. Most of us couldn't care less about their office or family affairs but proximity to the blabbermouth forces us to be privy to what should be private.

A couple of months ago I navigated myself to a local store to replace a cellular phone that was old and unreliable. There were two entire wall displays of models with sleek designs boasting high-tech performance capabilities.

An eager young sales clerk saw my bewilderment and took it as an opportunity to direct me to the most loaded - and costly - products. There were phones for music lovers, picture takers, game players, and for just turning heads.

As he rattled on about great video games, Internet access and e-mail, built-in cameras, stereo headsets, and personalized ring-tones, my eyes glazed over. I didn't want a phone to surf the Web, send and receive e-mail, get turn-by-turn directions, play games, take pictures, watch TV, or build a music library.

Call me crazy but I only wanted a device to make and receive telephone calls.

Somehow, we've been persuaded that we need lots more. Shrewd marketers have convinced us that cell phone clutter is cutting edge. But it's just clutter and, to my way of thinking, gets in the way of people really relating to one another. Tapping out abbreviated, rapidly executed pidgin English to stay in touch is a shallow substitute for genuine communication.

The wave of innovation that brought us the revolutionary iPhone has entranced a world led to believe being super loaded and sophisticated is what makes mobile phones sing. And it's never enough. The iPhone's successors will have more bells and whistles. The cell phone hype has everyone talking. To distraction.

Sometimes being out of sync with lunacy is the only way to preserve one's sanity.



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