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CLARENCE PAGE: Of all the mass media in this media-saturated age, some people think television is the most powerful. Others argue for radio or the Internet. Not me. I think the most powerful medium is the cell phone.
Cell phone can make the most intelligent people on our city streets look like babbling lunatics until you realize they’re not talking to themselves. They’re talking to someone else on a hands-free cell phone.
WOMAN: Hello. Okay. Hey.
CLARENCE PAGE: Conspicuous cell phone users seem amusing or annoying until they get behind the wheel. Then they become a menace. Some cities and states have banned drivers from using cell phones unless they use those devices that make them look like they’re talking to themselves.
But some new studies indicate that hands-free phone users may be driving to distraction as well. The British Medical Journal has found that cell phone using drivers are four times more likely to be involved in a serious crash whether they’re using a hands-free device or not.
And recent imaging tests at Johns Hopkins University found telephones actually divert brain energy. Whether hand held or hands free, Hopkins researchers said the cell phone effectively turns down the volume of information seen by the part of the brain that we use for other visual tasks like driving. Of course scientists have many more questions to answer. For example, can a cell phone be any more distracting than a live passenger or a back-seat full of restless kids?
And while we shouldn’t make too much of the cell phone as a distraction, we shouldn’t make too little of it either. After all, when you’ve got a live passenger, they can shut up or even help when the need arises. However, when you’ve got somebody on a cell phone, they may just keep right on talking until they hear the crash.
More than any other medium, the telephone engages us, so says Fordham University media Professor Paul Evanson. Our eyes tend to zoom in on one thing at a time, he says. Our ears are built for multitasking: Picking up moods, messages and warnings from all corners of our environment.
Marshall McLuhan famously called radio a hot medium for the way it imposes itself into our attention, while television is a cool medium for passively yet powerfully drawing our attention to the screen. Professor Evanson calls the cell phone a doubly cool medium. Think about it. What other medium makes us drop what we’re doing and respond as quickly and compellingly as the telephone does? Indeed, if radio is theater of the mind, the cell phone is our electronic confessional. Powerful executives and oversexed singles find themselves revealing secrets they might not want their own mothers to know loudly and annoyingly in the company of strangers.
The cell phone’s power seems deceptive, even tyrannical, intruding into our lives and keeping us connected even when we might not want to be connected. Hello.
I’m Clarence Page.