Cell Phone Saturation

The newest cell phones -- the ones with cameras in them -- are selling faster than VCRs, DVDs or any other electronic device. More people got cell phone service last year than in the first ten years the industry's been around combined.

In less than 25 years, the cell phone has changed our lives and, reports CBS News Correspondent Joie Chen for The Early Show, that's only going to continue, and perhaps even accelerate.

Which doesn't meet with everyone's approval.

Just ask 60 Minutes' Andy Rooney: "Nothing in my lifetime has changed the way we live in an 'unimportant' way more than the cell phone has."

Chen's report begins The Early Show series, "Cellular Nation."

But you don't have to look far to see how dependent we've become on cell phones, and how quickly it's happened.

Phone booths are mostly -- gone.

Hand any toddler a cell phone -- and they know just what to do with it.

More than one out of every two Americans owns a cell phone... 180 million of us are now "hooked on" them. Research shows men use their cell phones more than women.

Chen spoke with one man who admitted he sleeps with his cell phone, because he doesn't want to miss a call.

Lots of today's teens can't remember life without the cell phone.

But John Walls of Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) does.

He's a spokesman for the cell phone industry.

The first cell phones came out in 1983.

Walls showed some to Chen.

Those old models are "dinosaurs" his kids would laugh at. They had battery packs, a bunch of wires sticking out of them, and weighed about two pounds.

Yet, Walls points out, they were "a cool thing to have," in their day.

And, Chen observes, it was Michael Douglas' character in the movie "Wall Street" who made the cell phone a "got-to-have it" accessory.

Now, Chen notes, that "necessary accessory" does it all. It's a phone, it's a camera, it's a video recorder, it's an information portal to the Web.

And soon, it will do more. In Japan, the cell's already used like an ATM card. Some cell phones have GPS to track the phone by satellite if it, or you, gets lost.

Many of us already see the cell phone as a lifeline. Each day, more than 200,000 9-11 calls are made on cell phones. That's a third of all emergency calls that are made. But, Chen adds, nearly 20 percent of those cell phone callers had trouble getting through -- or didn't connect at all.

"The one thing people are actually not talking about as much as they used to," says anthropologist Robbie Blinkoff of Context Research, "is the reason they got a cell phone was 'safety and security.' People don't even list that now sometimes as number one."

That, Chen says, is because we've found other reasons to have a cell phone. We've learned we like to talk. And walk. And -- whatever.

We talk a lot on our cell phones, but often, we don't say very much.

One woman told Chen she'll often speak on cell phones about things like, " 'You know -- what are you doing? Well, here's what I'm doing.' Or, 'You'll never believe what I just saw on TV.' And – it's nuts," she laughed.

Blinkoff studies how we use the cell phone, and how it's changed the way we communicate.

"One of the things that a lot of people have are multiple, multiple shallow relationships," he remarks. "And that's meant in the best sense of the word."

Blinkoff explains we are now better connected, although in a more distracted sort of way.

So, he notices, one of the newest trends in wireless is called "knocking" -- someone dials your number, and immediately hangs up. It's not a prank -- they're trying to show they care. They're sending the message they're thinking about you, but don't actually want to talk to you.

Blinkoff says the goal is to make better, more meaningful connections, which isn't always easy in the wireless world.

But, experts predict, in the next decade, most of us will cut the cord -- and there won't be many traditional phones left.