The insidious thing about technology is that it can quickly go from novelty to necessity. A poll by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, AOL and the Associated Press examines the degree to which mobile phones have followed this trajectory.
Conducted among adults who own a mobile phone, the poll finds the technology encroaching on people's time. Forty-one percent said they "often make cell phone calls to fill up my free time while I'm traveling or waiting for someone." The figure rises to 61 percent among those age 18-29. One wonders whether these people are losing the art of being by themselves and thinking their own (unexpressed) thoughts. Cell phones also take a toll on Americans' honesty: 22 percent of all respondents (and 39 percent of those 18-29) assented to the statement, "When I'm on my cell phone, I'm not always truthful about exactly where I am." The ringing of a phone presents its owner with a temptation that's hard to resist. Twenty-four percent said they "often feel like I have to answer my cell phone even when it interrupts a meeting or a meal." Then again, maybe the mobile phone helps sustain the written word in our post-literate society: 35 percent use the text-messaging feature on their phones, and another 13 percent would like to add that capability.
A narrow majority of respondents (52 percent) said they keep their phones turned on "always," and another 24 percent said they do so "most of the time." Surprisingly, though, a minority of mobile-phone owners regard the technology as indispensable: 26 percent said they couldn't live without the phone; 45 percent would miss the phone but could do without it; and 29 percent could simply live without it. The mobile phone's intrusiveness plainly has much to do with people's mixed feelings about it. Twenty-two percent subscribed to the statement, "Too many people try to get in touch with me because they know I have a cell phone." Eighteen percent have received unsolicited text messages from advertisers. (The poll didn't say how they feel about this.) Then there's other people's loudmouthed use of the phones: 50 percent of those polled said they often encounter people "using their cell phones in a loud or annoying manner in public."
If such a calculation were possible, it would be interesting to know whether cell phones have reduced or increased the net number of mishaps people suffer. On the plus side, 74 percent of respondents said they've used their phone in an emergency "and it really helped." On the other hand (and I do mean hand), 28 percent confessed they "sometimes don't drive as safely as I should because I am talking on my cell phone."