America's all ears if you're talking about cellular phones


In a country teeming with self-professed chocoholics, shopaholics, foodaholics and people who simply can't live without their MTV, is it any wonder that we are a nation on the verge of cellular-telephone addiction?

Suddenly, legions of Americans can't stand to be out of touch.

While the rest of us dream of peaceful vacations away from the phones, phone-aholics have nightmares about being phoneless. They won't leave home without their cellular phones. They can't even remember what life was like before cellular phones.

It started out innocently.

At first they had beepers. Then they got car phones and thought that was the answer to all their phone-related dreams. But even that wasn't enough for the truly crazed. Soon they were trading that old car phone in for a portable phone, something they could tuck into a briefcase or sneak in a purse.

"I've had it all," said Frank Attwood, an Orlando, Fla., real estate broker. "It's really addictive."

Now Mr. Attwood carries his portable phone with him everywhere. In the morning when he goes for a walk, he takes the phone. At lunch when he goes to a restaurant, he takes the phone. On Sunday afternoons when he heads to his father's house, he takes the phone.

Mr. Attwood refuses to feel guilty about his phone usage.

"When you use your phone in a restaurant, of course, then people look at you and think that you're trying to impress them. But if we worry about what other people think about us, then we're headed for mediocrity for the rest of our lives."

Before you conclude that Mr. Attwood is some quirky exception, look around. The phone-frenzied are everywhere.

Restaurants -- particularly during lunch -- have become popular havens for cellular-phone junkies. There's a Friday morning Bible study group in Winter Park, Fla., that is occasionally interrupted by the ring of a cellular phone. Even joggers aren't immune. One was seen recently, stopped in midrun to take a call on his cellular phone.

Who are these phone-aholics?

"They're type A personalities, definitely, and they are primarily men," said Jim Bartoli, who owns a cellular phone store, Cellular Dimension in Maitland, Fla. "Why? Because men are more into competition, business and gadgets."

Already, these phone fanatics and their pesky cellular phones have created a fuss across the country. In Baltimore, theatergoers at a big-screen showing of the re-released "Lawrence of Arabia" were astonished and angered when a fellow audience member answered his cellular telephone and proceeded to hold a conversation.

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