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Stick Your Cell Phone...

By Noah Oppenheim

Disclaimer: The column you are about to read has been written countless times before, by countless other people, in countless different forms, in countless other forums. Nevertheless, the principles at stake are so important, so essential to the preservation of civility, that they require multiple repetitions. In short, no matter how stale the following may seem, it simply must be said.

Cellular phones are destroying our way of life. They are a greater threat than fluoride. For a while it seemed as if our academic enclave might remain untainted by this horrible cancer. Sadly, if we look around, we must conclude that all hope is now lost.

First, however, let us acknowledge that there are some good reasons why people in the professional world might need cell phones. A patient going into cardiac arrest and a retirement portfolio crashing come to mind as reasonable justifications for receiving a cellular phone call.

That being said, there is no good reason on God's green earth why a college student needs a cell phone. Not a single one. Not even close.

The fact is that no one on this campus is so important that they need to be constantly accessible. Despite their self-important delusions, all the editors and heads of student groups in our midst are essentially trivial people. In the grand scheme of things, they are fundamentally unimportant. Nothing they do has any critical impact on anything. Any problem that could possibly arise in the context of extracurricular collegiate life can wait. Most can probably wait days, but at the very least, every conceivable hiccup can wait until e-mail has been checked or messages have been played.

As for the ever-lovable socialites in our midst, they, too, suffer from serious delusional hysteria. When the time comes that they must coordinate a dinner party at Le Cirque with their diverse friends from all over the Upper East Side, then maybe their cell phone jabbering will be somewhat understandable, although certainly still abhorrent. However, right now, given the tiny geographic area in which we all dwell, the use of cell phones to plan social outings is entirely incomprehensible. After all, Grafton isn't all that far from the Fly, and the Spee is only a short walk from there. Even as they migrate from hot-spot to hot-spot, it shouldn't be too hard for the upper-crust to find each other on Friday night.

The best excuse for cell phone use currently floating around is that the long distance rates are cheaper. This is true. But there's no need to talk to mommy and daddy while you're strolling down Plympton Street. You can leave your cell phone in its cradle and enjoy all your free minutes from the comfort of your common room. Besides, I find this explanation for phone ownership a bit specious. If cell phones really are an effective means of saving money, how come all the scholarship kids aren't carrying around new StarTacs?

Granted, a cell phone can sometimes be convenient. But, with all of the Centrex and computer terminals all over campus, most people should not find it especially difficult to communicate with each other. And, last time I checked, most Square establishments boast easily accessible pay phones. Any added benefit that comes from having a phone in your purse is handsomely outweighed by the cost to the rest of us.

That cost is simple. Most cellular connections are not all that clear. Even when they are pristine, the person on the other end of the connection often sounds a bit distant. This forces the user of the phone to speak at a magnified volume. This forces the people in their vicinity to listen to their conversation. And sadly, most cell phone conversations aren't all that interesting.

For instance:

"Hello?…Yeah, I'm just heading out of Sever…I don't know, I fell asleep half-way through the lecture…The Bow?…I guess so…Look, I just have to pick up my laundry and then I'll be home…Okay, see you then."

Or:

"Hello?…I can hardly hear you…Yeah, Eliot dining hall…With Jess and Mike…Okay, I'll e-mail you later."

Besides the excruciating anguish of asinine exchanges such as these, there is of course the ring factor. Ringing is a form of auditory stimulus specifically designed to capture the attention of nearby humans. As such, it is inherently irritating. And, no, a Beethoven ring isn't an improvement. We should not be subjected to such irritation everywhere we go.

Of course, as was warned, much of this was redundant. We all know how annoying cell phones are. The point here is that this is a college. None of us are running multi-national corporations just yet. Lamont Library has posters reminding people to turn off their phones in the reading room. The fact that such posters are necessary is mind-boggling. Do we also need posters reminding people not to defecate in the stacks? What is wrong with a person that they would bring a ringing phone into a library?

Unfortunately, those who derive a sense of status from their fancy little phones probably cannot be persuaded by reason alone. So, I encourage those of you with Nokia's strapped to your belt to look in the mirror and recognize that you look like an idiot. This ain't Star Trek, that's no Tricorder, and you're no Star Fleet Officer. There will be plenty of time later in life for you to fill the vacuum in your self-esteem with expensive gadgets. For the time being, spare the rest of us. If you're so worried about keeping in touch, carry a few quarters in your pocket.

Noah D. Oppenheim '00 is a social studies concentrator in Adams House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.

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