Sat, Dec 24, 2011 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: A plea for cellphone etiquette

The Child Welfare League Committee is worried that young people are becoming addicted to cellphones. While the committee’s concern is laudable, it’s probably too late to worry about young people becoming addicted, given the behavior of their elder siblings and parents. Instead, society as a whole should question the ubiquitous presence and use of cellphones, even where they have been banned by law, and come up with rules of usage and decorum — even if the nation’s economy is somewhat dependent upon the production and sale of such devices.

The committee conducted a survey that found cellphone usage among urban children had grown 22 percent compared with six years ago, with more than half of fifth and sixth-graders using cellphones, 69.1 percent of seventh-graders and 71.5 percent of eighth-graders. The good news from the league’s survey is that children are using their phones for almost everything but talking. Almost 60 percent of respondents said they spend less than five minutes a day talking on their cellphones. Instead they use them to text their friends, listen to music, take photographs or videos and play online games.

The committee is not pushing for a ban on use at school, but for parents to give their children basic cellphones, not fancy smartphones, as well as setting usage rules and monitoring their children’s use of the phones.

The Taiwan Electromagnetic Radiation Hazard Protection and Control Association (TEPCA) is more concerned about the risk posed by exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields and the link to cancer, which is why it has been monitoring cellphone use by children. In June, it urged the government to ban children under the age of 15 from using cellphones on school grounds after a WHO warning that there might be a link between cellphone use and brain cancer among frequent users. However, as the WHO report defined “heavy use” as 30 minutes a day over a 10-year period, many people in Taiwan, not just children, are already at risk.

The league and the TEPCA might get their message across more effectively if they could get parents to monitor their own cellphone usage, and teach by example.

How many times have you seen parents or other adults sit down at a restaurant table, lay their cellphones next to their plate — and then proceed to answer or make calls, or take photographs of the food throughout their meal? How many times have we seen a man (and yes, it’s predominantly men) walking down the street with two or more cellphones attached to his belt and another in his hand?

Whatever happened to the law that it is illegal to drive while talking on a handset? When is the last time it was enforced? Hardly a day goes by that you don’t see a driver blocking traffic because he or she is trying to negotiate a turn with one hand on the wheel while trying to talk on a cellphone — or motorcyclists with a cellphone wedged under their helmet so they don’t miss a call.

It is time that lawmakers reviewed the laws covering cellphone use by motorists, to increase both the enforcement of the law and penalties for breaking it, as well as expanding it to include texting while driving.

The US and some other countries are even mulling the possibility of banning the use of hand-free sets, saying that they are too much of a distraction for the average driver. While that may prove too extreme for Taiwan, it is at least worthy of debate in the legislature.

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