Thursday, July 19, 2007

Oh gosh, frustrated telemarketers and pollister. What is this world coming to.

Of course we can talk now; I'm at a funeral and everyone is nice and quiet so I can hear you--Some day, someone will kill someone for interrupting a movie or a concert or a conversation--or a funeral--with a cell phone call. And when it happens, the prosecution would be hard-pressed to find a jury that would convict him.

Nonetheless, cell phones are a growing influence on life and not since Alexander Graham Bell summoned "Mr. Watson" from the next room, has there been such a great change in telephony (isn't that a great word?).

While cell phones in other countries work much better and are more useful than what we use here in the great American empire, even here, they are changing life. One of the best resources for knowing how is, believe it or not, the Centers for Disease Control. See here.

The latest of the National Health Interview Survey (I won't ask what this has to do with health) shows a staggering change in how we do things because of the little darlings. For instance:
  • At least 12.8 % of American households no longer have landlines but did have at least one cell phone.
  • At least 11.8% of individuals live in households with only cell phones, including 11.6% of all children.
Those figures have been steadily rising since 2003, and they are likely to continue to grow.
Here's more:
  • The population group with the most reliance on cell phones are adults living with unrelated roommates (54%)
  • Renters are more likely (26.4%) to rip out their land lines than property owners.
  • People under 30 are more likely to have cellphone-only homes. Half of all wireless-only were under 30.
  • The older the people in the household, the less likely they are to give up their land lines.
  • Men were more likely to go cellphone only than women (13.1%-10.5%), and the poor were more likely than the non-poor.
  • Southern adults (14%)were more likely to rely on cell phones only than northerners (8.6%).
  • Hispanics (15.3%) are more likely to go cellphone only.
There are a number of ramifications of this trend worth mentioning. One is the generational thing: an entire generation is moving from conventional telephones, which is not good news for the traditional telephone companies. Telephone marketers (phooey) and pollsters are screwed because there is no directory of cell phones. Mike Himowitz of the Baltimore Sun points out that this is because American phone companies charge you for both incoming and outgoing calls so there is considerable pressure not to create a directory. If your caller ID sees a number she doesn't recognize, she just won't pick it up. In Europe, the caller pays. There also is a federal law against random digit dialing of cell phones which is a serious handicap.

The effect on pollsters is particularly interesting considering what the CDC study found. As one generation weans itself away from land lines, that generation is more difficult to poll and some political experts think this showed up in polling in the last presidential election, giving John Kerry lower poll numbers during the campaign than he should have had. Since you can now take telephone numbers with you (I'll be using a Maryland number in Alaska), it becomes more difficult for a pollster to figure out where he has called. Hispanics become under represented. The people in these telephone categories are different enough to produce an 2% divergence between cellphone only respondents and those with land-lines, not enough to render current polling problematic, but enough to scare the hell out of people doing polls.

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