16 February 2011

The Ubiquitous Cellphone in Russia and America



Russian applewood cellphone http://englishrussia.com/index.php/2007/08/22/russian-wooden-phone/

We watched the politico’s assistant shout into a cell phone while jumping around in the rain, trying to improve reception.  Michael, his embarrassed boss, stood near us inside the Shaker Cafe, and said, “Cell phones are a curse”.  

This comedy happened in June 2000, just before Larissa and I left America... three years before cell phones became mainstream in America.

It was only in 2003 that a majority of Americans had mobiles... while that same year only 13.4% of Russians had cell subscriptions. But just in three years, 2006, a majority of Russians were using mobile phones!

Are you on a  cell phone short leash?

Well, you could say they are a mixed blessing, a two edged sword, that they have positives and negatives.  Ten years after watching the jumping-cellphone-talker,  and 6918 km away, I am still not comfortable with them. 

Thank God when I was an employee between 1965 and 1993 they didn’t exist to upset my tranquility!

I couldn’t tolerate a short leash from my employers... school administrators, the military, agency bosses.  What a horrible thing to be available always, wherever I wandered... fishing streams, bars, super-late lunches!  The cellphone would have made me self-employed much earlier than 1993.

A 21st century multitasker, or a relaxed guru?

Cell phones generally do not enhance peace of mind.  They encouraged attempts at multitasking.  I subscribe to what an East Indian guru practiced... single mindedness, such as driving a car without listening to music... and without texting or talking on the cellphone!

Some of my favorite authors wrote in the 1800s.  Life was simpler, slower, with fewer distractions.  There was little use of electricity, few trains,  no cellphones.  Events happened in ways different from how history works out now.  Faster and more accurate communication has changed lives and how things happen.  The number of people we talk with is vastly larger than before.

The Treaty of Ghent 24 Dec 1814 ended Britain and America’s War of 1812.  But the news didn’t get to America in time to stop the Battle of New Orleans, fought on 8 Jan 1815.  Looks like the British and Americans  needed a few roaming mobile phones.

Essential vocabulary you may not find in your textbook!

Americans say cell phone, while Europeans call it a mobile (phone), and Russians pronounce that mo-beel-neek мобилник.  They also often call their cell phone a trub-ka трубка, while stores advertise  it as a so-to-veh сотовый telephone.

A smartphone is a blend of the PDA and cell phone.  It may include internet, GPS, messaging, email, camera, flashlight, and always a querty keyboard.

Astounding Statistics!

World  70% of the world’s people have cell phones, more than all landlines. Back in 2002 only 15% of the world had cells.

United States, pop. 311,977,000 had 91% cell phone penetration (saturation) in Dec 09.

---50% of US people had smartphones 31 Dec 10.

Russia, pop. 141,940,000 had 151% cell phone penetration 10 Jun 10.

---23% Russians now own smartphones and 41% of new cell phone buyers in Russia choose a smartphone.

Cellphone only trend... 

USA.  26.6% Americans have no land telephone, just a cell phone.  My daughter in western New Jersey and sister in Savannah,Georgia are part of this group * while 51.3% age 25 – 29 have only a cell phone. 

* 21 Dec 10, National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Russia. For some in rural areas. a cell phone purchase may be their first telephone experience. It’s difficult to contrast this history with the USA where the number of home phones connections matched half the population by around 1970.

People in St Petersburg rarely move and have the same landline phone number often for life, making it easy to contact old friends.  I think most Russians hesitate to give up this number, but are more likely to supplement with a cell phone.

Statistics are swampy!

Most cell phone statistics are based on subscriptions, not the number of sets sold.  Many Russians have one cell for work, another for personal use.  Also people often have two or three SIM card subscriptions to switch when in different regions with stronger or weaker reception or to take advantage of company pricing. 

Our St Petersburg government-owned landline monopoly, Northwest Telecom, still operates with a Soviet scarcity mentality... They refuse to install another line in an apartment unless it’s for an unrelated family, such as could be the case in one of the remaining communal apartments. 

Suddenly with cell phones, people are not stifled by such arcane regulations and cells have fast become popular!

The positives and negatives of cell phones...

I sometimes carry my 2001 Nokia so I can make an emergency call, as pay phones are now a rarity.  With often slow St Petersburg emergency response, a quick call could make a difference.  Also, while our summer village now has an antenna pay phone, there has never been phone landlines, so the cell phone fills a real need.

Oregon is considering legislation to label cell phones as dangerous because of radio frequency and possible cancers.  Maine failed last year to pass similar legislation.  Some scientists are particularly concerned for young people facing a lifetime of increased exposure.  Already city dwellers are bombarded with radio frequencies.  Tawkon, an Israeli company, is marketing a device to help people reduce cell radiation exposure.

There’s a patchwork quilt of laws throughout much of the United States that regulate cellphone use when driving, a good and sensible trend.  Prime Minister Putin imposed a similar ban in Russia in March 2001... which is routinely disobeyed and unenforced in St Petersburg. 

It has a lot to do with your age...

I like to travel light, and don’t want a lot of things in my pockets, particularly something that will buzz or ring.  But if I were younger and single, I would probably be happy to get sudden phone calls from my friends.  How about you?


Is your cell phone something pleasing, or do you hate it?  Have you an unusual story about cells?  Just click comment on the next to last line at the end of this post, and let us know!

If you want to learn more...

Michael Mace looks at the different  attitudes of Americans and Europeans towards their cellphones.http://mobileopportunity.blogspot.com/2006/09/european-vs-american-mobile-phone-use.html

Cellphones are in demand in isolated areas...  see comment by Michael Koenigs at  CNET Review, 16 Feb 10.  Lance Whitney, “Cell phone subscriptions to hit 5 billion globally”.  http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13970_7-10454065-78.html?tag=contentMain;contentBody 

A wonderful compilation of statistics. Nationmaster,com  http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/med_tel_mob_cel_percap-telephones-mobile-cellular-per-capita

The Israeli company, Tawkon, provides applications to monitor cellphone radiation.  http://www.tawkon.com/

The Globalist gives an overview of cellphone growth worldwide. http://www.theglobalist.com/globalicons/syndication/sample.htm


  1. I'm 45, I've had a mobile phone for the since 2000. I don't find that I am on a short leash or any of the other negative connotations. I can help people when I am away from my desk (I'm a school computer tech). and I can get help, directions and check on other tasks without having to go all the way across campus to my office. After hours, it help me pick up my kids from their various after school activities and my check with my wife, "I'm on my way now, do you need me to pick any thing up on he way home". and for my kids, the most common text is, "I'm on the way".

    I've had a Smart phone in 2004-2006 but it wasn't quite as smart as I had hoped, but I'm seriously looking at getting an iPhone as it will go beyond phone to Augmented Intelligence and portable digital multimedia player/collector.

  2. When we were running a business, a bleeping mobile might be the ticket to the next income but these days (since the financial crisis finished the business) I frequently leave it at home and have not bothered to keep up with the latest types. Mine just has the phone option (ok it has a camera, never used it) but it does not link to the net, play music, or games, or any other spurious money making function or if it does I don't use it.

  3. Thank you,UnrealNeil,

    In my family, if your cellphone has a flashlight and can take a photo, we are impressed! I'm intrigued by the iPhone and iPad, but I am not sure I would have any use for them.

    Augmented intelligence I guess we could all use.

  4. Hi Rob,

    Have you ever been woken by your cellphone demanding to be fed electricity? I have to figure how to turn that notifier OFF!

    Or, have a good conversation disturbed by a cellphone call? That's a good test as to whether your friend at lunch values the real you or the possibilities of the call. Most polite if people turn off their phones at mealtimes.


Comments, Questions, Ideas