There are any number of subjects I could talk about at this time of the year. The presidential election, managed care, the balanced budget amendment, HIPAA, the Middle East, leadership and many others. You get the picture. All these issues affect us in one way or another. However, the topic I've chosen to address this time has to do with cell phones. Maybe you have one in your car or you carry one in your pocket or you have a pager that vibrates when someone is trying to reach you. I bet some of you have all of the aforementioned. After all, anyone who is an executive needs to make sure they can be reached at a moment's notice.
But the use of cell phones, especially in automobiles, is looked upon with disfavor by all kinds of factions including police, politicians, other drivers and just about anybody who doesn't have one.
First of all, I think cell phones are under fire because a lot of people are simply jealous of those who have them. As a matter of fact, I recently heard a politician on a radio station who perhaps blew his cover by saying, "People who possess cell phones have too much money and talk too much as well." The poor fellow seems to have an inferiority complex about not having a cell phone. Maybe he wants the government to supply him with one, or maybe he's just giving his wife a gift idea for Christmas.
Another reason a lot of people don't like cell phones has to do with manners, or whatever is left of them today. There are stories about cell phones going off in the middle of a funeral or wedding or some other important occasion. All it takes to silence a cell phone is to press a button that turns off the power. Recently a judge was so upset about a cell phone ringing in his courtroom that he detained the person responsible in a jail cell (no pun intended) for some 24 hours.
Many articulate defenders of cell phones make a reasoned case for the increased use of cell phones in automobiles. The vice president of a major cell phone company made this statement recently in Crain's Chicago Business: "From 1988 to 1995, the number of wireless phone users in the U.S. grew 1,685% to nearly 34 million subscribers. During the same period, injuries resulting from auto accidents on the nation's roads decreased 16.6% and fatalities fell 26%, according to National Traffic Safety Administration statistics."
I have a couple of cell phones myself. I know they can come in handy and can be a lifesaver when someone is trying to reach you. In the article I quoted earlier, the author claims that wireless phones are used at least 120,000 times a day in this country to dial emergency numbers to save lives and report dangerous situations. That statistic is impressive indeed.
So maybe cell phones aren't as bad as a lot of people believe. And just maybe they aren't as dangerous in cars as some would lead us to believe. When used responsibly, they probably make our lives just a little bit more convenient and even more fun. And if only those who propose statutes limiting cell phone use would examine the data, they might reconsider their rush to judgment. Physicians, of course, do this all the time before making a judgment on a patient's condition. First-rate executives would do well to do the same.
Don't jump to conclusions, Charles S. Lauer Publisher