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Like the guy in the movie Network screamed, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore," I sometimes want to scream, "Get off the phone! Everybody, please, get off the @$#%& phone!"

(Of course, I'd never be allowed back in Publix!)

Cell phones. They drive me nuts. I think they're the ultimate antisocial invention. People walking around with these phones to their ears look like sleepwalking zombies in a horror movie, oblivious to everyone around them. And driving a car while on the phone? Don't get me started.

All of a sudden, it seems everybody everywhere is on a cell phone. When did this obsessive compulsion begin? I don't remember any grand announcement.

First, a brief history.

Although Bell Labs introduced the idea of cellular communications in 1947 with police car technology, Dr. Martin Cooper of Motorola is considered the inventor of the first modern portable handset. (So, that's the guy!)

He made the first call on a portable cell phone in April 1973 to his rival, Joel Engel, head of Bell Labs research. He made the call while walking down a New York City street.

By 1977, AT&T and Bell Labs had constructed a prototype cellular system. By 1982, the slow-moving Federal Communications Commission finally authorized commercial cellular service for the United States. By 1987, cellular telephone subscribers exceeded one million and to stimulate growth, the FCC declared that cellular licensees could use alternative cellular technologies. See

Well, I guess there wasn't any grand announcement, because what I consider an O/C disorder has acted like a virus that slowly, quietly and insidiously spread throughout the country.

And it has been kept alive and nourished by the eye-popping technology that brings better phones to market. They can send and receive text messages, surf the Internet, download and play music, take pictures and, yeah, make a call. But, just when we thought we had seen it all, Apple introduces the iPhone.

As the New York Times described it, this spectacular gizmo is "a tiny, gorgeous, hand-held computer, whose screen is a slab of touch sensitive glass.

"Lists scroll with a flick of your finger, CD covers flip over as you flick them, e-mail messages collapse down a trash can."

But wait. T-Mobile has announced the HotSpot@Home phone. Plug a wireless router (transmitter) into your DSL Internet modem and - voila! - your home is a WiFi spot and all your calls are free (for a small monthly charge). In fact, all calls made in any WiFi location are free! Whoopee!

Enough. There seems to be no hope for a cure for this epidemic of public phoning using what looks like a handheld toy.

Alas, I am just a voice crying in the wilderness of old age, someone who seeks but will never find the simplicity of yesteryear. That was a time when people actually greeted each other on the street or in the market. It was a time when people excused themselves to make or take a phone call in private. In private.

Yes, all you cell phone junkies. Unfortunately, I can hear you now.

Jack Bray is a retired broadcasting executive who lives in Dunedin.