With both her employment and living situation in flux, Brown needs her mobile phone. She uses it to follow up on job and housing leads, and to keep in touch with public assistance agencies, which sometimes follow up with phone calls instead of asking applicants to come into an office. Having a cellphone also helps Brown stay in touch with her family and friends.
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"It's basic. I call it my 'Blueberry,'" Brown said, describing her feature phone. "It's not a BlackBerry, but it's helping me for now."
Once considered a luxury, the cellphone has become one of the most popular communication technologies in the world. As a result, many people — regardless of income level — view the cellphone as more of a necessity. Before landlines became essential, they, too, were once used by the privileged few.
"Today every family must have a telephone if it is to contact emergency services," Linda Gibbs, New York City's deputy mayor for health and human services, wrote in a 2007 poverty report. "If it is to have access to news, information and culture a TV, radio, and newspapers are essential. This was not always true, but it is true now. And soon (if not now) we will need to add cellphones and access to the Internet to that list."
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Six years later, 91 percent of American adults own a cellphone, according to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center; more than half of those are smartphones. Over a third of American homes have even become cell only, according to a 2012 National Health Interview Survey.
Phone companies are scrambling to meet the diverse demand. On Tuesday, Apple launched two new iPhone models, one of which is priced at a more affordable $99, when purchased with a 2-year plan.
"Mobile communication is part of the structural part of society. We expect people to have cellphones when we're in relationships with them, when we're working with them," said Scott Campbell, Pohs Professor of Telecommunications at the University of Michigan. "Otherwise expectations are broken, expectations are unfulfilled, and that's a problem."
Campbell added that there are three sets of basic advantages to having a cellphone: safety and security, the ability to coordinate activities, and the chance to be social.
This is the case for Brown. In addition to maintaining it for networking and possible emergencies, she uses her 'Blueberry' to keep up with social issues. "If you don't keep up that way, too, you feel like you're going insane," she said.
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Brown is a client at LIFT, an organization that aims to help its community members achieve economic stability. Advocates at the organization also believe cellphone access is crucial to community members, especially for those clients facing a housing difficulty.