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Local opinion columnists

Keep value of cellphones in proper perspective

By From page A8 | July 20, 2014

Can anyone imagine getting through a single day without a cellphone? Especially now, because cellphone technology has advanced so far that it reaches nearly everywhere into our lives.

I’m one of the few among family and friends who has decided to ignore the trend to purchase a smartphone. Oh, I still have a cell, but I use it exclusively for talking (no texting allowed) and certainly no applications that allow me to navigate the world via the cellphone.

If I were still in the newspaper business, I am sure I would have made the transition to smartphones that would allow me to communicate in many fashions besides voice. It has almost become essential to have the ability to communicate on several platforms when conducting business.

My wife invested in a smartphone a couple of years ago, after I retired. It seemed frugal to pay for only one smartphone since we spent so much of our retired lives together. Besides, I’m not sure I’m smart enough for a smartphone. But it is nice to have the ability to use many of the mobile applications while traveling around the West.

Just a few days ago we were able to reset the thermostat in our home using the phone before arriving home after a visit out of state. What a joy it was to have a comfortable temperature inside while the mercury was touching the century mark outside. A few years ago, we would have arrived home and waited hours after manually resetting the thermostat for the temperature to reach acceptable levels.

We also were able to check for the best gasoline prices along the way using one of her mobile applications. And, we always seem to seek the answer to some trivia question along the way, especially during one of our eight-hour trips.

One of her favorite apps is “tango,” where she is able to have a video uplink via the phone to see and talk to our youngest grandkids in Washington state. There are definite advantages to smartphone technology.

But for some, cellphones have become almost obsessive. I’m blown away at the number of motorists who talk or text while driving despite laws that prohibit it. One almost clipped me on the freeway in Boise earlier this week on my way home from a doctor’s appointment. The young woman had no clue I was in the lane as she made a sudden maneuver while talking. We nearly had an unwanted entanglement.

I’m also amazed at the rudeness of people out together in malls and restaurants where they are busy texting rather than carrying on conversations with one another. Why even be there in pairs if their interests rest somewhere else?

With so much personal information now stored on cellphones and the obsessive need to use these modern conveniences throughout the day, it’s no wonder owners have become overly attached to them.

Some recent news accounts make that tragically clear.

A 15-year-old Santa Ana girl was killed earlier this month when a thief stole her cellphone as she and her 7-year-old sister were walking home. Rubi Rubio decided to chase the thief, who jumped into a car and sped away. The girl latched onto the back of the car, but fell off, sustaining fatal injuries when the driver swerved to shake her from the getaway car.

Closer to home, a 14-year-old Martinez girl, Jenna Betti, was killed in March as she tried to retrieve her cellphone from railroad tracks in Martinez in front of an oncoming freight train. She could not move quickly enough and the train sucked her into its path, killing her.

Two people died back in January as they jumped over a fence and broke through ice in the Chicago River trying to retrieve a cellphone.

An even uglier tragedy occurred in China last month when a man and his mother both died from injuries after jumping into a cesspool trying to retrieve an expensive cellphone the man had just purchased as a gift for his wife.

Six people in all jumped into the pool of human waste trying to save the man and his mother. All were alive when pulled from the pool, but the two who initially jumped in died later.

These tragic stories during the past few months speak primarily to accidents that occur trying to retrieve cellphones. There were 3.1 million cellphones stolen in the U.S. last year, and a greater number of victims, like Rubi Rubio, are paying a supreme sacrifice.

While we all should be overjoyed with the versatility and the utility of our cellphones, we still need to put things into perspective. Cellphones, no matter how smart they are, should not cause us to make stupid decisions when confronting their potential loss, either due to accidents or theft.

Cellphones can be replaced. Lives cannot.

Bill James is a former editor and publisher of the Daily Republic, now living in Meridian, Idaho, a suburb of Boise.

Bill James


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