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In school, they're a distraction; in cars, they're a danger


LET'S HEAR IT for the Carroll County school board for trying to crack down on the cell phone menace.

Late last month, the board proposed stiffer rules on student use of the ubiquitous devices that have rung, buzzed and jingled their way into our lives, exacerbating a modern condition in which America is overwhelmed by intrusive technology.

The Carroll County board proposed stiffening penalties for students who break the rules by using their cell phones during school hours, and the board proposed expanding the prohibition to students while riding on school buses.

Bravo! Better still, tell them they have to leave the wretched things at home. They might actually learn something by paying attention to what's going on in the world around them. Even in Carroll County, that can be an enriching experience.

E-mails have done in the art of writing letters. Cell phones have done damage to the art of hearing and listening. When the only sound someone is waiting for is the signal from a cell phone, or the voice of the other caller - or the face of the other caller, now that we have the video cell phone - all else is obscured. The sounds of nature are diminished by the passion to yak with just about anybody about nothing really important. It's spring here now. You can hear it and feel it. But not if you're glued to a cell phone.

In the hands of a driver, the cell phone actually becomes a source of lethal danger. Maryland has had the good sense to prohibit minors from using cell phones while they are driving. With only two hands, how can a youngster drive, hold a cell phone and change tracks on the CD player at the same time?

But why not ban all drivers from using cell phones except in emergencies, when one hopes they can pull over to the roadside? I have seen a lot of near-accidents caused by drivers talking on their cell phones. Studies show the devices have become a major contributing factor in accidents around the country.

Disclosure: I have a cell phone. It's the cheapest kind you can buy, and I resent having to use it, so I hardly ever turn it on. It's for emergencies, or at least for important calls. I resent the device even more when I get a bill for it. The service costs about $60 a month when all the taxes and fees are added in. That's more than $700 a year. Imagine what one can do with $700. Why, you could go to Florida for a weekend and sip daiquiris under the shade of a coconut palm. Much better value.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against technology. Anyone who started in the newspaper business when I did has to admire it.

In those days, a newspaper reporter went out to cover a story with a note pad and a pencil. Smart reporters carried some dimes to call in to the paper from a pay phone. When the reporter returned to the newsroom, the story was written on a typewriter. Each page was in triplicate and triple-spaced, which made for a lot of pages.

There were no computers. There was no Internet full of information - true and false. If you were a foreign correspondent, you typed up your story and sent it to a telegrapher to be dispatched as quickly as possible.

It was a messy, time-consuming ordeal, and the computer and the Internet have done away with the need for all that. Reporters don't have to carry dimes anymore, either, because, yes, they all have cell phones.

So, there's nothing wrong with technology, or even with cell phones. They add to the convenience and quick fix of life in America. But do they have to be a body appendage of every adolescent in the country to yak on mindlessly? And, more important, should the driver of a vehicle that's usually huge and complicated, and very fast, be allowed to use them while driving in public? I think not.

G. Jefferson Price III is a former foreign correspondent and editor of The Sun.

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