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The ubiquitous cell phone

Roughly 95 percent of DU students own cell phones, which some say they can't live without. Photo: Tim Ryan

A few years ago, cell phones were considered a luxury. Today, they are thought of as a necessity and can be seen virtually everywhere. Students make calls between classes, fans text-message during hockey games and most DU Newman Center performances begin with an admonishment for patrons to silence their ringers. And while some holdouts still refuse embrace mobile phone technology, DU students, like their peers nationwide, have welcomed the buzzing, chiming, jingling little contraptions.

In 2000, just 60 percent of DU undergraduate students had cell phones, according to a survey conducted by statistics Assoc. Prof. Tom Obremski and his students. Today, Obremski says, that number is close to 95 percent.

“Part of the increase began when first-year students asked their parents for one, even though they had phones in their dorm room,” Obremski explains. “When parents said no, students played the security card. Now that they have cell phones, most students admit they use them for social reasons.”

Sophomore hospitality management major Jordan Conner is no exception. He has lived on campus for two years but has never taken a call from his dorm-room phone.

“Once, my cell didn’t work. I couldn’t get calls in or out, send or receive text messages or check voicemail,” Conner recalls. “I felt cut off from the rest of the world. What’s worse was that I couldn’t even order a pizza because I didn’t know my dorm room phone number, so the delivery guy couldn’t call me.”

Telephone Services Director Karen Ornelas understands better than anyone how landline phones are fading. Students no longer need to buy long-distance minutes from the University to call home. They just use their cells.

In 1995, she says, DU’s gross revenue from student long distance calls — nearly one million minutes — was in excess of $200,000. In 1999, the University began to see a gradual drop in student long-distance usage, which dipped sharply in 2001 and 2002. “Finally, in the fall of 2003, we discontinued the student long-distance program for lack of use,” says Ornelas, noting that universities nationwide have done the same. “No one has complained.”

This past fall, Obremski had students conduct a mini-survey that canvassed about 100 DU undergrads. They found that cell phone plans averaged about $62 a month and included features such as text messaging, e-mail capabilities and Internet access. Camera phones also were popular.

Conner, who makes at least 15 calls a day on his cell, recently increased his plan to include more text messaging options after exceeding his monthly allotment. He says he couldn’t live without his phone.

“Cell phones have changed life. Now, everyone is instantly available and people are available to work more often on weekends and evenings,” says Steven Haag, chair of the Daniels College of Business information technology department. “Younger people use cell phones primarily to stay in touch, but that may change over time.”

And it likely will, given the new technology that is on the way. Haag says that by the end of the year, we’ll see hard drives on cell phones. Voice-Over-Internet Protocol (VOIP), which allows users to make telephone calls via the Internet, also is gaining in popularity as it becomes more affordable and the quality improves, he explains.

“But, the more capabilities we have, the shorter the leash,” Haag adds. “There are tradeoffs for everything. With every convenience you give up some privacy.”

But most college students aren’t thinking about that.

“I think they are good just to keep in touch with people wherever you go,” junior hospitality major Kendra Huenneke says. “You never have to miss a call unless you want to. They are just really handy.”

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