Life As We Know It: May 12, 2014

      Cell phones are so much a part of our lives that it is difficult to remember what life was like before them. But, so far, at our house, we remain ridiculously behind the curve. My wife and I each own a cell phone, but they’re those cheap models available at the supermarket. They do just two things. They make phone calls. They receive phone calls. We buy pre-paid cards. No contracts. No continuing obligation.
      We bought them for one reason: emergencies. It’s good to know that if my wife has a car problem somewhere, she can summon me, although given my shortcomings in the field of auto repair, she understands she should call Triple-A first, then me.
      The phones also come in handy if she’s at one end of the amll and I’m at the other. We can relocate each other.
      That’s about it. We don’t have them glued to our ears around the clock. Our phones don’t permit us to text message and we wouldn’t want to anyway. Why tap out a message with your thumbs when you could call the person and hear his or her voice?
      There’s something else to consider, and it relates to privacy: the ability of cell phone companies -- and law enforcement -- to track your whereabouts without a warrant. Big Brother can find not only who you’re calling but where you are when you call.
      So my wife and I happily remain in cell-phone kindergarten while everyone around us has a PhD in “app” technology.
      Smart phones are the genie that can’t be put back in the bottle. People who get rid of their land lines have their reasons.
      However, it’s annoying when movie-goers or concert patrons ignore instructions to turn their cell phones off during the performance. If it isn’t the beeping, it’s the glowing.
      Actor Hugh Jackman stopped his performance in a stage play to embarrass the holder of a ringing cell phone in the audience. New York Times critic Ben Brantley even has a name for these people. He calls them TPCs -- Theater Phone Criminals. Of course, what they’re doing is not really a crime, although it should be. They at least deserve the equivalent of a parking ticket as they leave.
      Folks at the Toledo Symphony Orchestra still tell the story about the evening back in 1980 or so when an early-generation wireless phone -- one of those big hand-held clunkers -- went off in the audience during a performance of a piece by Haydn. Conductor Ole Schmidt paused, turned to the audience, put his thumb and pinkie to his face, and said in a voice loud enough for all to hear:
      “Hello? Mr. Haydn? You’re pleased with the performance? Wonderful! Thank you!”
      Far more serious -- and just as tolerated -- is the use of a hand-held cell phone while driving. Why such a dangerous distraction is still legal anywhere is one of the great mysteries of our time.
      Only six states have outlawed the practice. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia prohibit novice drivers under 18 from using cell phones of any kind. And only 19 states plus D.C. ban text messaging while driving. Amazing.
      Some legislators, and the Governors Highway Safety Association, say there is no evidence that hand-held cell phones are any more dangerous or any more of a distraction than hands-free phones. I disagree, but evidently that’s just me.
      The city of Bowling Green put a ban on hand-held cell phones on the ballot a few years ago and you could almost hear the voters’ collective snort of derision as they rejected it. If you can explain that to me, please do.
      Just don’t call me when I’m behind the wheel. I won’t answer.