- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

Muttering, mewling, sudden outbursts, swerving automobiles and trite dramas at the grocery store: Egad, it is the cell-phoner in full cry, oblivious to all but the wireless conversation at hand.
Welcome to the jabber wars, where stakes are high and battle lines clear. The coy phone jingle is now a full-fledged siren call among 115 million American cell-phoners, a population set to more than double in five years.
It is a love affair and even a dark new "addiction" as persistent phones punctuate meals, church services, graduations. One recent survey even found that fewer than half of the phoners turned their phones off in the bathroom, or while having sex.
Organized phoner "communities," such as the 27,000-member Upoc group (www.upoc.com), trade celebrity sightings, stock-market tips, merger rumors and tacky chitchat via their phones. Novelty, meanwhile, feeds the need.
A simple ding-a-ling is a thing of the past. Phone makers now offer hundreds of new ringer tunes with odd names like "Sushi on the Terrace." There are voice ringers that announce callers and polyphonic ringers that sound like orchestras. Cellular phones run video games, play music, recharge with sunlight and, come fall, can be worn as wristwatches.
With airtime as low as $30 for 2,000 minutes, analysts predict use will go up by 25 percent.
As the bounty grows, so does the discord. Even as New York and 40 other states confront political and legal ramifications of cellular-phone use in cars and in public, the argument escalates.
A University of North Carolina report found this year that under 2 percent of traffic accidents were caused by improper cellular-phone use. Driver distractions like car radios, air-condition controls, unruly passengers, eating and even lightning strikes were more dangerous, the report said.
"It's time to stop cell-phone hysteria," said Steve Dasbach of the Libertarian Party.
Fierce emotions come into play.
Emergency room incidents of "cell-phone rage" against users include black eyes and broken ribs — the "reach out and punch someone" syndrome. Last year, a Gallup poll found that almost half of America was annoyed by the public blabbering.
"No-cell-phone zones" have multiplied nationwide in eateries, libraries, clubs and city offices; manufacturers like U.S. Cellular and Nokia have issued wireless etiquette guides.
Despite an FCC ban on the practice, interest in cellular-phone-jamming equipment continues in the United States and elsewhere.
With technology developed by former Israeli intelligence officers, Japan and India have already installed systems that block cellular-phone signals in government facilities.
Cell-phone use has also mutated into a kind of paranoid phone mythology.
Will new Global Positioning System technology in phones allow "Big Brother to track you by cell phone?" asks the Wireless News.
The horrific link between phone radiation and brain cancer prompted Berkeley, Calif., to ban new cellular-phone antennas this year, while sales of protective head sets and "brain shields" are brisk.
Cellular-phone use on airliners is also a concern. Though the National Transportation Safety Board has not yet determined if a phone was to blame in one fatal crash, the FAA forbids passengers to phone in-flight.
Lawyers continue to explore the liabilities of both airlines and phone manufacturers in the case of a phone-related air accident.
Some say that such hubbub is par for the course when new technology is introduced to society; there was an equal amount of discussion when radios were first put in cars back in 1930.
This is just the beginning, says Martin Cooper, who invented the cellular phone 28 years ago.
"The future of the cell phone will continue to be personal," he told CNN. "In the long term, you may have your cell phone embedded, perhaps, under the skin behind your ear."

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