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On March 7, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for the telephone. It’s a wonderful invention, but with the relatively recent proliferation of cellular phones worldwide, the use of the instrument is fast getting “out of hand.” Or should we say, “it’s not getting out of hand;” and, that’s the problem!

In A Pilgrim’s Almanac, author Edward Hays wrote for the entry of March 7: “Celebrate today the awareness that the telephone is only a servant, and it can be given brief vacations from its duty by being unplugged at meals, prayer and other times during the day. A day to ponder whether it must always be answered.”

When Hays’ suggestion to limit telephone usage was first published in 1989 millions of people already were subscribing for cell phone service. And with the strong demand from emerging markets, the attraction of color displays, text messaging and camera-enabled mobile phones, the estimated usage today is more than 2 billion worldwide.

Admittedly, cellphones have become very important in our lives. They make us accessible at all times, help us keep in touch with family and friends, and enable us to get directions or find help in emergency situations, especially when commuting or traveling.

When is it acceptable to use a cellphone?
That’s a difficult question, especially since answers can differ widely depending upon who is responding. For example, if you’re the person being annoyed by someone talking loudly on a cellphone inside a restaurant, you’ll probably say it’s not polite to use the instrument in a place where people expect to have some privacy. And if you’re the person on the cellphone, you might admit it’s not that polite, but the call was tremendously important!

There was a time, believe it or not, when there was only a single, black telephone in a home. Most people were on what was called a “party line,” as opposed to a “private line,” with a half-dozen other neighborhood households. Often when you wanted to make a call you discovered someone else was “on the line.” And if the person stayed on the line too long, you politely – sometimes impolitely – asked them to “please hang up!”

The old telephone might have been less convenient than a cellphone, but the invention is no less controversial today despite rapid advances in service and technology. And the phone did not rule our lives as it does for many individuals today.

We went on a cruise recently and it was great to be able to talk with people because they didn’t have a cellphone in their hand. (The service at sea was not that good and signing up for wifi was expensive). Life returned to normal, however, at the airport with nearly everyone “playing” with their phones while waiting for a flight.

Could we still follow Hay’s “old fashioned” advice today and consider not using phones at mealtime, while driving and other occasions when meeting with family and friends? With services such as “caller identification” and voicemail, we certainly have the capability of knowing immediately if a call may be important.

Vince LaBarbera
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Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer