Phone Sweet Phone

I lost my cell phone recently. Technically, I didn’t really lose it. It was sitting on my son’s coffee table in his house in Ft. Morgan. Only I was locked out and he was in Denver. So the result was the same as if I had lost it. At first, I thought it was just an inconvenience. I just had to find a pay phone so I could call him to make arrangements to meet him in Denver. I can hear the younger readers saying, “WTF is a pay phone?” The joke is on the old guy. There isn’t a pay phone in Ft. Morgan as far as I could tell. Or in any other town, for that matter. Pay phones have disappeared. Even from the truck stop that used to have one. Like rabbit ears, floppy disks, and drive in movies, pay phones have become technological dodo birds.

The story itself had a good ending. The lady at the truck stop let me use her cell phone. So did the waiter at the restaurant. They didn’t even worry about whether it was long distance since their phone plans covered it. They got to do a good deed, and I got to eat lunch with my son, a rare treat. My son overnighted the phone to me the next day, which seemed almost silly since the shipping cost was more than value of the phone. He and his wife are so dependent on their phones, they can’t imagine life without them and get extremely agitated when they have to go phoneless for any length of time.

They aren’t unique in this. I work in a secure facility, which means cell phones stay in your car. I suspect one reason for our high turnover by new staff is that many people can’t stand being separated from their phones all day. They’d rather be without a paycheck than without their phone. I’m not a technophobe, but it seems to me that obsession over a technology that is less than twenty years old is something worth looking at carefully and maybe even regulating more. Exhibit A is that incidents of people distracted by their cell phones who walk off of cliffs, into traffic, or into bodies of water have become so commonplace that no one reports these stories anymore. As a society, we have to take a position. Do we regulate cell phones heavily like vehicles, or do we treat them like guns and let evolution take its course? “The only way to stop a bad guy with a cell phone is a good guy with a cell phone.”

I don’t have a dog in this race, so I think I can give an objective view of the issues. Some might object by pointing out that my cell phone is a dumb one. It can only text and talk. But since I have to be phoneless for most of the day, it’s not practical to have something better. Besides, I upgraded my wife’s flip phone to an I Phone that she uses to guide and entertain us quite often. So I do appreciate the magic that is Apple. Smart phones, like all cell phones, are a great invention. They reduce the number of bar fights, document historical events, and provide a 10% discount on overpriced coffee. Cell phones also let me call my dad in Florida from my car, the mall, or a fishing trip.

The downside is that I have to talk to my dad in Florida and listen to his weather reports. Worse yet, cell phones facilitate infidelity, leading to rising divorce rates, longer waits in lines while people try to use their phone to pay their grocery bill, and worst of all … the selfie. Cell phones are taking narcissism to new heights. Scientists are finding that brain scans of people deprived of their cell phones show the same withdrawal signs as heroin addicts who are detoxing. Cell phone addiction is a real phenomena that needs to be addressed. I foresee major political battles between KOSS (Keep Our Sidewalks Safe) and the NSA (The National Smartphone Association). Obviously, we shouldn’t ban cell phones all together. Like alcohol and morphine, cell phones have legitimate uses. But just as we do with tobacco and payday loans, we need some regulation “to protect the children.”

I suggest we start with an age restriction. If you’re not old enough to pay for it, you don’t need it. Most kids have better cell phones than the average adult. Preschoolers are using their phones to cheat on their coloring sheets. Eight-year-olds shouldn’t be walking around unsupervised with more computing power in their hands than the Apollo 11 spacecraft. Parents can’t be trusted to monitor their children’s cell phone use. If they could, sexting wouldn’t be such an issue among adolescents. The only exception I think we need is on airplanes. In the air, kids should be given smart phones, I Pads, drugs, or anything else that will keep them quiet for six hours. Common sense shouldn’t be abandoned as we regulate this electronic menace.

We also need to regulate where people can use their cell phones. Many states have tried to ban cell phone use in cars without much success. Regular readers of this column know how I feel about people who use cell phones while in line. Besides being bad manners, phone use holds up the line. And the increase in using cell phones for storing coupons and even paying for items will make the delays even worse. Line rage, like road rage, will become another source of random shootings.

Fortunately, we don’t need laws to regulate people’s phone behavior. We have the available technology to control people’s cell phone use right now. The phone companies should be forced to create dead zones where cell phones won’t work. Some companies, like the one I use, are already experts in preventing cell phones from working. Shutting down phones in every movie theater and at every stop light would be a good start. How many times have you wanted to honk at the car in front of you because the light is green and the driver is so busy talking, he or she don’t notice? We should strictly control the places where a cell phone will work. We could even combine the smoker zones with cell phone zones outside of buildings. That will discourage frivolous cell phone use even more since cell phone use and cigarette smoking is a cancer double whammy.

I know some might object to parts of my “Modest Proposal.” That’s okay. As long as I’ve extended the conversation, I’m happy. As a free people, we have to do something before Apple figures out a way to surgically implant a phone in our bodies. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to take this call.