Thursday, June 14, 2012

183. Call me, just not when driving

Cell phones continue to be the subject of controversy. From safety, etiquette and cultural perspectives, society continues to be at an impasse as to how to handle the mini-computers that take up so much of our focus.

Manny Acta of the Cleveland Indians called this the "head's down" generation, referring of course to consistent attention given to people's phones. Cell phones are an ageless phenomenon, but it is true that it exemplifies that generation.

I freely admit that I like my phone. I enjoy getting emails and texts. It is a convenient way to get a quick response from family and friends. Texts are often the best way to reach people. I imagine that letters would now be a nearly unbearable wait for a response. Many grow impatient even waiting a day for someone to answer their email.

I often check out Facebook from my phone; in fact I rarely do it on my computer. I also like Twitter; I can quickly sort through interesting and relative news stories . . . without all the annoying "coming up" segments on the network news stations. I like being able to check the scores of baseball games and tennis matches; I like being able to look up birds on my Audubon application.

It is convenient to have my calendar available and an endless list of contacts. I expect to have "everything" in my phone.

Thus with the ability to connect to friends and family, access my calendar, look up my contacts, surf the Internet, engage in social networking and download any of thousands of applications-the world is at my fingertips. I get it, I really do.

However, I do have limits. I do not carry it with me at all times; I check it periodically (much to the annoyance of some).

For example, I rarely take my phone into dinner. I do not take it on dog walks or nature walks. I enjoy building the relationship-enjoying the moment-with my dog. I want to hear the birds chirping, the water running. I do not want my phone interrupting my workouts; I can return calls, emails or texts when I am done.

Like many others, these limits are magnified when it comes to safety and consideration. We all probably have a mental list of annoying or dangerous phone experiences.

In a shopping center parking lot, I saw a woman trying to dial her phone as she was pulling out of her space-I wondered if she could not dial before she pulled out, or after she was out of her spot?

We have all probably seen someone sitting at a green light, as they are finishing a text message or email. When we see a car on the road traveling ten miles below the speed limit, chances are they are decelerating in proportion to the focus on their phone. And then there is the gradual drift to the right-thank goodness for rumble strips.

I see people ignoring their dog as they text away on its walk. They are completely oblivious to their environment-potential dangers, like other dogs or cars.

The texting ban recently enacted is a step, at least in awareness if nothing else, that is directed toward the dangers of driving while texting. It is a mental and physical distraction-and very unsafe. It is not just accidents; it affects all areas of driving-consideration of other drivers and watching out for children or animals.

Many people do not put their phones down-ever. Not the minute it takes to pick up their child from daycare, not even on that long trip to the mail box.

My concern is that people are going to miss a portion of their life-really living-by spending so much time on their phones. At sporting events, people are missing the most exciting portions of the games with their heads buried in their phones. At dinner, couples sometimes do not even speak to each other-the attention on their phones and their thumbs flailing away. Sometimes we do not enjoy the moment; we enjoy photographing or sharing the moment through social media.

We all probably know people who live "virtual lives," those who live their lives through their computer or phone experiences-a step away from reality.

I am not going to go "the good old days," I already admitted that I like my phone. I am not against the appreciation of technology. But it is concerning that so many people are addicted to their phones.

In fact, we almost did not renew our phone contract; it can actually be a burden-always being expected to be accessible. It can also be a distraction; surely I can check the scores later or watch the news. When my phone was broken for a few days, I almost enjoyed the peace . . . the focus. And it is expensive; we have seemed to come to accept that cost-the necessary equivalent to our water or gas bills.

Last week a pregnant woman walked right in front of me in a parking lot, not even a glance away from her phone to make sure I had stopped. Sure, she had the right of way and had I hit her it would have been my fault. But being right is of little consolation if you and your unborn baby are lying in a hospital. How did she know that I did not have my head down, equally distracted on my phone?

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