Cell phones, as Iíve mentioned before, will collapse our civilization.

The technology of mobile telephone communications has made us unpleasant people. Itís an epidemic, and whatís scary about it is we donít even seem to realize itís happening. I mean, the enlightened realize it, but weíre few and far between.

The realization really came to me one morning this week when Iím having a conversation with someone in the office and her cell phone rings, and without a word to me she answers it and starts a whole other conversation in the middle of the one she was having with me.

When she hung up, I pointed out to her how rude that was, and to her credit, she said it never really occurred to her.

Thereís the rub, ainít it?

Think about how often that happens. Itís epidemic, if you think back and count how many times exactly that occurs. Youíre at lunch with somebody, riding in a car with somebody, fishing with somebody, and even if thereís a conversation going, the phone rings and they pick it up and answer it, completely dismissing you into the ether.

People werenít that rude with house phones, near as I can recall. If you had friends over and the house phone rang, even if you didnít say something like, "Excuse me a second," you at least finished your sentence and maybe added a quick point of the finger upward to indicate, "Give me a minute," before answering the phone. Chances are, you didnít hang out on it for half an hour, either, while your company waits and, in desperate boredom, starts going through the stack of mail on your kitchen table.

But somehow, cell phones have made us callous, unthinking and obnoxious. For some reason, we think if our cell phone rings, itís an ear-splitting klaxon going off signaling "RED ALERT!" and if we donít answer it now, I mean quick, right this dadgum minute, boy, itíll explode and blow our hip off.

Weíve all seen people carelessly walking down the aisles of the grocery or department store, chatting away on their cell phones. Now, I admit, my cell phone has come in handy when, say, searching for something my mother wants and I needed clarification of what exactly it was as I stand there looking at the display shelves. But then, Iím on, conduct my business, and off again before someone starts putting out stadium seating around me.

And when youíre standing in line behind someone on a cell phone to buy a pack of gum, and the cashier behind the register canít make the person ahead of you understand that their purchase is $14.49, not $12.29, or that they gave her a $10 and not a $20, or that their debit card isnít working because itís their library card, all because theyíre too busy gabbing on the cell phone while you are slowly mummified there in front of the junk science tabloids with headlines reading ALIENS ABDUCTED MY MOTHER AND GAVE HER BACK WITH TWO HEADS!

I donít understand it. My cell phone Ė granted, I am a relic from a bygone era when phones did three things: Ring, communicate information, hang up Ė is only on my hip in recent months because of health issues with other members of my family. Before that, I only wore my cell phone when I was on call for the Banner.

Now, people who want to call me for casual conversation Ė ask me how thingís are going, tell me about a nice column I wrote, ask what channel such-and-such comes on, whatever Ė call me on my cell phone.

Okay, letís examine the logic here: People have gotten so cell phone-addicted, they call your mobile phone before your house phone. In some cases, even before calling your office phone.

What the devil is wrong with people? If it is Monday through Friday within business hours, wouldnít it make more sense to ring my office phone if you want to talk to me, instead of this obnoxious thing on my hip that starts chiming and vibrating and demands attention like a spoiled two-year-old throwing a tantrum, even though Iím on the office phone with the mayor or something?

Same applies with the house phone. I always call peopleís house phone before I call their cell phone. It just makes sense. Calling my cell phone before calling my house phone at 8 p.m. is like breaking a window and climbing in the house instead of using the door bell first.

People who call my cell phone are lucky I answer the thing at all these days. I used to keep it in the truck where it would ring its evil little electronic heart out, all for naught. This is because Iím in my house or my office and they got real phones in there!!!

And if I got into the truck and looked at the list of missed calls, and I didnít want to call you back, well, I didnít have to. Thatís far different than this annoying chirping, chiming, snippet of country-western song, sound byte from The Simpsons or whatever else harping in your ear, or the vibration mode making one hip smaller than the other like the old vibrating weight-loss machines were purported to do. Cell phones are made to demand attention, and therein is the problem.

All these silly ring tones drive me crazy. Iím walking along in the courthouse, say, and suddenly I hear a snippet of "Stairway to Heaven" from someoneís purse, and just when I think Iím having an epiphany or a religious experience, they pull their phone out, flip it open and say, "Girl, where have you been?"

Or Iím having lunch somewhere and, from behind me, I distinctly here Capt. James T. Kirk say, "Beam me up, Scotty," and I spin around but thereís nobody remotely resembling Jim Kirk in the joint, no sparkling resonance of a transporter beam, and I suddenly realize Iíve been had again by a stupid cell phone ring tone. I hate the notion of a Star Trek ring tone anyway. Itís demeaning. Spock would never have beeped Kirk on his communicator just to say, "Hey, Jimmy Boy, did you see American Idol last night?"

Theyíre gonna be the death of us, people. The downfall of civilization, Iím telling you.

You take this device that emits ultra-high frequency, zillion-cycles-a-minute, microwave energy and stick it up against the side of your head. What you figure is happening to your brain, Einstein? Itís made you obnoxious, thatís what. That certain zillion-cycle frequency is the precise one that destroys the center of the brain that controls, discretion, courtesy and politeness, while enhancing as if a steroid that area of the brain dictating vocal volume, inhibition and things that seem funny to you, i.e., a ring tone of Al Bundy belching.