The technology spread rapidly, as did the various names given to it: in Japan it is .
In countries where cell phone use is still limited to the elite — such as Bulgaria, where only 2.5 percent of the population can afford a cell phone — its power as a symbol of wealth and prestige remains high.
Who else but a roving drug dealer or prostitute would need to be accessible at all times?
This changed in the 1990s, when cell phones became cheaper, smaller, and more readily available.
Like the switchboard operators of times past, we are now all privy to calls being put through, to the details of loved ones contacted, appointments made, arguments aired, and gossip exchanged.
Today, more people have cell phones than fixed telephone lines, both in the United States and internationally.
If the cultural image we had of the earliest cell phones was of a technology glamorously deployed by the elite, then the image of cell phones today has to include people using them for this final act of communication, as well as terrorists who used cell phones as detonators in the bombing of trains in Madrid.
Of course, the perceived need for a technological safety device can encourage distinctly irrational behavior and create new anxieties.
There are more than one billion cell phone users worldwide, and as one wireless industry analyst recently told , “some time between 20, everyone who wants and can afford a cell phone will have one.” Americans spend, on average, about seven hours a month talking on their cell phones.
Wireless phones have become such an important part of our everyday lives that in July, the country’s major wireless industry organization featured the following “quick poll” on its website: “If you were stranded on a desert island and could have one thing with you, what would it be?