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Opinion: Cell phones grow as symbols of fashion, power, usefulness

September 2, 1999
Web posted at: 3:02 p.m. EDT (1902 GMT)

by Dan Briody, InfoWorld columnist


(IDG) -- Cell phones are here to stay. Just accept it. I'll admit that when they first started hitting the streets early this decade, I regarded anyone that whipped one out with a sort of jealous, class-based contempt.

But now that the little buggers have become so darn affordable, I've got one and I'm all for it.

Although I still harbor fears of what the proliferation of radio waves is doing to my unborn children, it is great to be able to talk with whomever, whenever, wherever.

But cell phones are going way beyond their utilitarian beginnings. Cell phones are staking out a place in history, weaving themselves into the social fabric. They are fashion statements. They are necessities. They are symbols of power and importance.
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Like the car you drive, the view from your office and clothes you wear, your cell phone alerts people that you have an important job that keeps you very, very busy.

If you are without a cell phone it means that no one depends on you for urgent direction and needs to get in touch with you at all times. It means you're not cutting deals, giving orders; in short, not getting around all that much. It means you are a worker bee who can be reached at your desk, like clockwork, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. And nobody wants that kind of a reputation.

Of course, it's always better to receive calls than to make them. Calling out looks like you're trying too hard. Receiving calls looks important.

But merely having a cell phone only tells half the story. The type of cell phone you carry fills in the rest of the details. Mine is a clunker, heavy but functional. It says that I am not a frequent traveler, but when I do hit the road, I throw it into my briefcase and not my pocket, mostly so that I can call out to people and not receive calls.

There are worse clunkers than mine though, like the old standard Motorolas. These things are so big they look like kitchen appliances. When they're pulled out in public, it tends to be embarrassing for everyone involved.

The Motorola StarTac, however, is so Star Trek (not a coincidence the name is almost the same) that you definitely look a) cool, and b) important. The phone is light, sleek, delicate, and very functional. It's not surprising that it's a hit.

Then there are the colorful Nokias with the interchangeable facades. If you're in the business world, you don't want to be seen with one of these babies. They are for teenagers, the latest target market in the ever-expanding cell phone business. They are cherry-colored, lime green, and bright yellow. They accessorize. They are the Volkswagen Beetle or the iMac of cell phones.

So, without being too superficial, make sure your company is aware of the stigmas attached to different types of cell phones. And make sure you procure cell phones based on the image you want your employees to exude. Choose your cell phone wisely, because the first thing anyone does when a cell phone rings is judge its owner.

Dan Briody is an InfoWorld editor at large.

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