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Sheryl McCarthy

Sheryl McCarthy

Posted: July 2, 2009 07:14 AM

Cell Phone Hell

What's Your Reaction?

As the only remaining New Yorker who doesn't own a cellphone, I'm acutely sensitive to the abuses of those who do. The shopper in Fairway who blocks the dangerously crowded aisle while chatting on the phone with her husband about what kind of fish to buy for dinner. The man in the back of the bus who holds forth so loudly that his conversation drowns out thought. The jogger whose nattering into his cellphone headset shatters the quiet of a morning walk in the park.

There are close to 13 million cellphone subscribers in New York's five boroughs, according to Scarborough Research, a consumer marketing research firm, which means there are more cellphones here than there are people. And since New Yorkers spend more time than people in other cities in close proximity to each other on the streets, in stores and restaurants, and on public transportation, we cannot escape the tyranny of cellphone users.

Yet despite frequent grumbling and much serious eyeball rolling at cellphone abusers, New Yorkers are not going to give up their cellphones. To paraphrase the old Calvin Klein ad, nothing comes between them and their cellphones. Certainly not the law. Despite a city law forbidding people to drive cars while talking on hand-held cellphones, on a single day last March city police handed out 9,000 traffic tickets to people caught talking on the phone while driving.

Not city edicts. Despite a mayoral ban on public schoolchildren taking cellphones to school, school officials confiscated 36,000 cellphones from students during the 2007-2008 school year. They say cellphones are disruptive and encourage bad behavior such as cheating and arranging after-school fights, not to mention texting and sexting. But parents are furious about the ban, claiming that for safety reasons their kids need to have cellphones so they can keep track of their whereabouts during the day. They even brought a lawsuit challenging the ban, but the courts ruled against them.

Not even high taxes get between New Yorkers and their cellphones. A study conducted by the New York Post found that New Yorkers pay the highest cellphone taxes in the country---about 22% on the average cellphone plan, and as high as 33%. Yet New Yorkers continue to cellphone home, even though discarded phones dump hazardous electronic waste into the garbage system, prompting city officials to ask cellphone owners to turn them in for recycling.

I spent a number of years working television, and after being loaded down with electronic equipment, I have resisted loading up again or joining the ranks of the cellphone tyrants. I know how convenient it is to be able to reach one's significant others when you all have cellphones. And whenever I use a public payphone, I'm aware that I could easily contract some deadly disease from the filthy receiver. But I'm holding out. At some point I'll probably succumb to cell phoneitis, but allow me to nurse my healthy grudge a bit longer.