Subway cell phones: Progress or chaos?

As the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (NY) rolls out wireless service at six subway stations, the debate begins. Is the ability to text, talk, tweet, and surf underground a sign of progress or the end of civilization? The New York Times likens it to a “vast social experiment.” Michael M. Grynbaum writes:

The contemplative commute could yield to the on-the-go office. Books may be discarded for text messages and e-mails. And a convenient excuse to ignore a call may be rendered moot. Most of all, the trial could lay bare the deep ambivalence of iPhone-addicted urbanites who lament their digital tethers, and yet guzzle so much smartphone data that the city’s cell networks often slow to a crawl.

In a related story, Clyde Haberman advises the doomsayers to lighten up. First, only the platforms will be wired, not the tunnels, so conversations can’t last forever. And for the time being, only AT&T and T-Mobile subscribers will have access, limiting the number of New Yorkers who can get a signal. “And let’s not overestimate the power of technology,” he concludes, saying it is too early for technophobes to panic. “You may have noticed that it often fails.” Besides, it took the MTA years to get the first half dozen stations wired; who knows how long it will take to extend service to all 277 stations.

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