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May 26, 2015

Cellphone education, etiquette long overdue

Cellphones have evolved significantly in recent decades - from the clunky cereal-box-sized contraptions carried by Zach Morris on "Saved By The Bell" in the 1980s, to the sleek and slim smartphones showcased by Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie Bradshaw in "Sex and the City."

No one can deny the unbelievable capacity of the cellphone to assist us in a multiplicity of ways in our daily lives: to confirm the latest loss by the Toronto Maple Leafs; to locate a restaurant that serves the tastiest tuna tacos; to co-ordinate a rendezvous with a romantic lover; to check the weather to determine whether it's wise to wear leather; to record videos of our child's first steps or swear words; to take selfies with celebrities to corroborate our stories; to illuminate the night so that we can find our missing car keys; to settle arguments by Googling the answers; to calculate our tax refunds and then spend them by shopping online; to watch The Avengers the day it is released on video; and to listen to "Pump It Up" during a workout session.

Despite this list of positives — that is by no means exhaustive — cellphones are having a negative effect on society, and education and etiquette around this increasingly technological annoyance are long overdue.

Socially, cellphones are creating daily vexation. Unwanted marketing calls and messages have begun to plague people on their cellular devices. Pocket dialing occurs periodically, leaving one to question whether a friend is in an actual emergency, or perhaps simply answering the call of nature. It is not uncommon for people to interrupt important conversations — about relationships or personal finances — and pull out their phones in order to respond to urgent "Waz up?" text messages.

Parents also use cellphones as a GPS tracking device for their transient teenagers — which may sound good on the surface, but in reality can stifle independence and erode mutual trust. I also worry that oral and written communication will deteriorate as more messages tend to be shared through emotionless, expressionless text messages that are devoid of any grammatical genius.

And unless you are a burgeoning Gordon Ramsay, is it absolutely necessary to use your phone to photograph your latest attempt at Cajun curried pork and beans and post it on Facebook?

The majority of cellphone owners seem to find themselves checking their phones for calls and messages, even when they do not notice their phones vibrating or ringing. At a recent wedding, a close friend of the bride was texting on her cellphone during the bride's speech. When I later confronted her on this social blunder and discovered she was texting Kraft Dinner cooking instructions to her 20-year-old son during this monumental moment for her friend, I was tempted to spear her Samsung with my salad fork and launch it like a lighted firework into the sky.

There are also countless health and safety concerns caused by the cursed cellphone. According to The Cell Phone Problem project, led by Dr. John Wargo and Dr. Hugh Taylor from Yale University, there is cause for concern due to the electromagnetic radiation — emitted by cellphones — which can increase the risk of cancer and brain tumours.

Carrying the phone in a briefcase — instead of in one's pocket — and texting — instead of talking with the phone next to one's ear — will have lower exposure to radiofrequency. However, the report also declares that 90 per cent of all young adults aged 18 to 29 sleep with their cellphones on — or right next to — their beds, which is too close for the brain's comfort.

Distracted driving is another critical safety concern. The National Safety Council attributes approximately 1.3 million car crashes per year in the United States to cellphone use while driving — resulting in nearly 5,000 fatalities and 500,000 injuries. Here in Ontario, fiddling with a cellphone has begun to prove even more deadly than driving drunk, according to the Ontario Provincial Police.

Cellphones are clearly here to stay, and they can be undoubtedly useful.

Nevertheless, individuals need to make wiser decisions about cellphone usage, and schools need to integrate cellphone safety and etiquette into the curriculum in order to forge a society that is safe, informed and respectful.

Brent Bloch is the vice-principal at Wellington Heights Secondary School in Mount Forest.

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