We're all prisoners of technology, doomed for all eternity to a cell -- unless, of course, you have a cell phone jammer.
If you burn with anger when you're subjected to the nonstop jabbering of a cell phone abuser, there's something you should know: The technology now exists to zap that person's cell phone signal with the press of a button, so he's left talking to himself.
Cell phone jammers -- some made to look like actual cell phones -- are widely sold over the Internet at prices ranging from $300 to $1,500. The low-end models block calls at a range of about 30 feet, and top-of-the-line ones can provide a cell-free zone almost as large as a football field.
The offending loudmouth won't even know he's being jammed. His signal will just go dead, and he'll probably just complain to his phone carrier. That is, if his signal ever returns.
One minor problem: Jammers are illegal. Regulating the airways is the domain of the Federal Communication Commission, and a violation carries an $11,000 fine. But the FCC has yet to slap someone for illegal jamming.
It's unclear how many people are purchasing such devices, but the number of online merchants hawking jammers has exploded. The sellers are based outside the United States -- where local laws may permit such technology -- but these companies seem geared to serve Americans. In some cases, they even boast that their products are designed to blot out radio frequencies reserved for cell phones in the United States.
It should be noted that importing such a device is also illegal.
Luckily, there are some old-fashioned, shame-based solutions for rudeness. One online group, calling itself the Society for Hand-Held Hushing -- or SHHH! -- is offering downloadable notes that you can fill out and hand to someone who's speaking on the phone a little too loudly about something a little too personal.
An example of such a SHHH! note reads as follows:
Dear Cell Phone User,
We are aware your ongoing conversation about YOUR HUSBAND'S VASECTOMY is very important to you, but it doesn't interest us in the least. In fact, your babbling disregard for others is more than a little annoying.
-- SHHH! Society for Hand-Held Hushing
The hushing campaign, started in jest by designer CX, has clearly struck a cord. Since December, the company is reporting more than 400,000 downloads of SHHH! cards.
But part of the problem with today's cell phones is that they're more than just phones. Today's cell phones are also cameras, Internet browsers and so much more.
Even if you hate cell phones, you probably have one. And if you haven't seen some of the latest cell phone services, here are a few:
1. Mobile Karaoke
Just when you thought cell phone users couldn't get more obnoxious: Next week, Fly Cell releases Mobile Karaoke, a sing-along cell service that will allow you to hone your audition for "American Idol" as you walk to work.
As the music plays over your cell phone speakers, you'll see the song lyrics on the phone's video screen. Soon, you'll be singing Beyoncé on the bus and Usher on the elevator. Each song costs $3.99 and is available through most carriers. Who knows? You may be the next William Hung.
2. Don't Play 'Name That Tune' Against This Phone
How many times does this happen: You go out. You hear a great song. But you don't know the song's name or the singer. Soon, all you'll have to do is dial a number, hold your phone in the direction of the music for 15 seconds, and you'll find out automatically.
MusiKube, a startup company, is promising that you'll be able to use its new SongLink'd service even in noisy bars when you're not standing right next to the jukebox. When you hear a song you like, just dial (866) SONG-411. In a few moments, you'll get a text message with song info and a link to download the ring tone, all for 99 cents. The service works with most carriers and will be launched in a few weeks.
The SongLink'd database of 2.5 million songs can identify most contemporary music, except for jazz, classical and live performances. If you stump SongLink'd, the call is free. But if you download the song, make it your ring tone and quickly get sick of it, that's your own problem.
3. Doggie Cell Phone
Here's a product that's sure to inspire a remake of "Lassie Come Home" -- a bone-shaped cell phone for dogs that fits on the pooch's collar. No matter where you are, you can call up and say, "Here, boy!" Just beware of the long-range canine roaming charges.
PetsMobility, which has a patent pending on its animal cell phone but no release date for the product, believes that pet owners would want to call their beloved beasts while they're at work or traveling and wouldn't mind paying the extra cash for their four-legged friends to have private numbers.
Higher-end PetCell phones would even have GPS navigation systems and fiber-optic cameras, so that you could locate your roving Rover.
A kitty PetCell is also in the works. But as we all know, cats tend to screen their calls and often choose to be unavailable.
4. MommyTrack Mobile Video
It's not enough to keep your child's nanny under 24-hour surveillance with a spy camera. Today's neurotic parents can monitor their children even when they're on the road, thanks to the MommyTrack Mobile Video Monitoring System.
For $14.99 a month, MommyTrack allows you to watch live streaming video over your cell phone. For an added bonus, you can speak to your child, and assure the little tyke that mommy and daddy are always watching -- and always know when their little bundle of joy is not smiling.
If you never tell the kid that you wired his room with a MommyTrack and a spy camera, he may even grow up thinking that you're psychic.
5. SpongeBob Rescue Rings
Even as SpongeBob SquarePants battles rumors about his sexuality, he's ready to help you ditch a bad date.
Many cellular companies now offer Rescue Ring services. With this, you can pre-program a cell phone call at an appropriate time in the evening, so that you'll have a handy excuse to leave early.
Now, for $2.49, SpongeBob can personally bail you out of blind date hell. Virgin Mobile and MTV Networks have teamed up to bring Nickelodeon characters to your cell phone. With the SpongeBob Rescue Ring, you just tell your boring dinner guest that you just got a phone call from a sick friend who lives in a pineapple under the sea -- and you're sorry, but he needs your help now. Thanks for the dinner. I had a great time. Let's talk soon.