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ISSUE 116 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/21/2003

Temptation rings: Debating the pros and cons of cell phone use

By Rebecca Lofft
Staff Writer

Friday, February 21, 2003

"They're the tool of the devil," says Jonathan Graef '05, "but I own one."

Though Graef jests about the satanic implications of cell phones, many indeed wonder whether the devices are for better or worse. Inexpensive long distance rates, ease of communication, trendiness, and safety precautions are the most common reasons for cell phone usage. Cell phone users around the world are increasing at an almost unbelievable rate, while users in the United States are slowly catching up.

Several students noticed an increase in cell phone usage on campus, particularly among this year's freshman class. "As a J.C., I see a lot more first-years using them now than when my class entered St. Olaf," said Jenilynn Swett '03. Though she does not currently own a cell phone, she foresees purchasing one in the near future. "I might get one this summer when I'll be working at a place without easy phone access."

Cheaper long distance rates and improved payment plans seem to be grounds for the surge in cell phone use. "Free long distance–, that's really the only reason you need it," said Christiana Reader ‘'05, who also does not yet own a cell phone. There is even a noticable increase of cell phone usage on campus. "I think when you're spending a lot of time on a small campus like this they're not really necessary," Swett said. Reader said, "I'll definitely get one sometime, just 'cause they're cool. They're just fun to play with."

Indeed, the cell phone has become something of a toy or a show-off item to many people. "You need to have the smallest, newest [model] with pictures," says Kristin Valle '04, a student from Telemark, Norway. "I don't care about that, but I don't want a big brick." It is true that smaller is easier to carry around, an appeal which newer models often boast.

Valle affirms that cell phone use is so popular in Norway that most people start getting cell phones when they are twelve years old. "In Norway, everyone has a cell phone -- you're sort of weird if you don't have one. I got mine in 1998 after two years of pressure from my friends."

France, Japan, and Germany also rate high on the list of countries rich in cell phone users. "If you go to the cities, everyone has one," says Thomas Muehle '05, who has lived both in Germany and Japan. Alex Rauch, an exchange student from Hannover, Germany, verifies the purported popularity of cell phones abroad. "I'm the only person I know who doesn't have one. It's pretty expensive compared to normal telephone use," he said. "It's quite practical, just for getting a hold of people."

Many also claim safety purposes as the reason for owning a cell phone. Valle commuted about an hour to high school each day.

"I was never home so there was no way to get ahold of me, except through my cell phone," says Valle. Lindsay Reed '05 said, "I've had mine since I started driving so I could keep in touch with my parents if I was going somewhere else."

Though these reasons are valid, the effect of increased cell phone usage upon the entire world is becoming more and more apparent. New policies regarding cell phones are becoming more common due to the increasing popularity of cell phones. New York recently instituted a law legislating a $50 fine to cell phone owners if their phone rings during a performance.

"Over-usage -- that's the problem," agrees Graef. He reports the frequent occurrence of someone answering his or her phone during a play or concert. "I think people are getting better about cell phone etiquette," said Swett, "but if you're just hanging out with someone and their phone rings, you're suddenly playing second fiddle to the person on the phone."

The United States has been surprisingly slow on the uptake as far as cell phone users go. Norway and Finland hold the record for the two countries with the most cell phones for their population. Norway, a country of approximately 4.5 million people, had 200,000 cell phones in 1990. The number of cell phones is now up to 4 million.

A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup poll recently stated that 18 percent of 625 U.S. cell phone users see their cell phone as their primary phone. Cell phones can be particularly useful in such a manner for international students or frequent travelers.

Valle appreciates her phone as "a good way to keep in touch with friends far away," a concern familiar to many college students. Swett understands that her dad's headset phone allows him to get work done en transit during his weekly trips from St. Paul to Rockford, Ill.

As with most technological developments, cell phones hold both positive and negative qualities. Useful, fun, occasionally irritating, or burdensome: cell phones are likely here to stay, if not usurp normal communication as we know it.

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