Keeping in Touch, 24 Hours a Day Cell Phones, Pagers Make Americans Reachable - like It or Not

Article excerpt

HUGH MUOZ was out on the golf course one Saturday when his pager went off. A senior consultant for a Boston mutual-fund company, he figured the message concerned yet another meeting.

But the readout conveyed more important news: "Daddy, I've got my first loose tooth - Willy."

Wireless communications have made Americans more reachable than ever before. And while pagers and cell phones have been touted for increasing productivity in business, they are also changing the way we live - from parents issuing cell phones to roving teenagers to restaurants handing out pagers for patrons wait for tables.

This year, 24 percent of United States households will have at least one cellular phone, according to the Electronic Industries Association. Sales of pagers are expected to reach $315 million in 1996, up from $275 million in 1995. "They have given us tremendous freedom," says Mark Rosenker, vice president of public affairs for EIA.

Ten years ago, doctors, lawyers, and high-ranking government officials were about the only people who wore beepers on their belts or toted portable phones. In the late '80s, the personal communicators symbolized ambition and became yuppie status symbols. They also marked a leap toward the "futuristic" world: The dream of communicating like Captain Kirk had become a reality.

Now, with the devices becoming less expensive, more efficient, and smaller - and competition driving service fees down - nonbusiness use of pagers and cell phones is skyrocketing.

For Jay Russell, "peace of mind" was the goal in clipping on the pager he wore for six weeks this winter. He and his wife, Catherine, were expecting a baby, and as a busy accountant, he was rarely reachable at one number. As it turned out, their son was born on a Saturday, but the pager was "definitely worth it," he says.

Pagers or cell phones are indispensable for dual-career parents, says Mr. Munoz, father of three who has his home computer hooked up to his pager so his children can send him messages. He and his wife also like the fact that their babysitter knows how to page them when they're out.

To see the trend in full force, look no further than the big screen. In "Heat," police chief Al Pacino gets paged with leads. In "Clueless," high school student Alisha Silverstone gabs on a cell phone to her highly connected friends.

The technology has also caused dramatic challenges in movies: No longer able to hang up the phone in anger, characters have been reduced to forcefully slamming down their phone antennas.

In the marketplace, one company introduced a mock pager that provides a beep as an excuse to get out of a conversation. Even the junior set is linking up with plastic kiddie versions.

At-the-hip communication, as it is sometimes referred to, does have its down side, though. …