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What Hath Cellular Wrought?

Every new market study seems to point to an ever-increasing number of mobile telephone subscribers in the world. The lure of multimedia services, with cellular telephones capable of voice, data, and video services anywhere and at any time, promises to raise the status of a mobile handset from a "luxury" item to one of life's necessities--one of those essential items that no one can be without. A mobile handset provides instant information as well as a sense of being connected to anyone at anytime.

But will the long-term dependence on such communications convenience change our fundamental way of thinking? During a recent visit to a college campus to welcome this semester's high-school seniors on their way to becoming next semester's college freshmen, it became clear that the cellular telephone, rather than even face-to-face conversation, had become a preferred means of communication among the incoming freshmen. But whether by voice, or text message, or e-mail, it is a one-dimensional form of communication, without the facial expressions and other nuances of a face-to-face conversation, and without the instantaneous response times required in a "live" conversation. Mobile handset devices are a tremendous convenience, but they will have a sociological impact for years to come and, in the end, will change the nature of how people communicate, perhaps not in a good way.

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