Editorial: Distracted driving one outcome of a distracted society

Twenty years ago when the phone rang it was generally for something important, a customer wanting to place an order, a colleague requiring detailed information on some joint work or your mom giving you the latest scoop on aunt Sadie’s recent gall bladder operation. If someone dared to call with the mundane or trivial garbage we now routinely accept we’d all have said, ‘I’m sorry, but I cannot talk now. I’m working.’

But then Al Gore invented the Internet and global warming, and cellphones became smaller than bricks and considerably more useful. Through those combined events we now have the ability to let the world know what we are up to at every moment of the day by Twitter, Facebook or the ubiquitous text message.

Alberta’s distracted driving law comes into effect Thursday, a law that will carry a nearly $200 fine for those who are caught trying to apply lipstick, trying to eat a full course meal or trying to send a Facebook update while driving.

There are a lot of distracted drivers on the streets and highways these days. You can tell them by their downward below-the-dashboard gaze and the fact they are either drifting into your lane or heading obliviously towards you through a red light.

In addition to being solid proof that Darwin was wrong about species evolving (although I suspect we will all have thumbs the size of cellphone keys in another three generations) distracted drivers are a proof that we are living in a truly distracted society.

There was a time when a couple sitting in a restaurant diverted their eyes from each other only to the menu or the dinner plate, unless they hated each other, of course. Now it is all too common to see that same couple seldom look up from their iPhone, Android or Blackberry screen to navigate their fork to their plate, let alone to look each other in the eye while having a meaningful conversation.

Likewise, the movie theatre has become a place where too many people are diverting their eyes from the silver screen to the cellphone screen.

The ability to instantly send every thought, whether by text, tweet or e-mail, has not allowed us to be more productive as was the promise when Captain Kirk was dating green aliens or when George Jetson was jetting around in that cool little flying car we were all supposed to be driving now. Instead, we have become slaves to our cellphones, each beep, boop and blip causing us to salivate like Pavlov’s dog as we rush to respond to the most mundane of crap.

With the constant barrage of information hitting us every hour of the day and our now self-imposed obligation to answer it all instantly, is there any wonder why so little seems to get accomplished as compared to 20 years ago?

Cellphones were once large chunks of plastic that were heavy to carry. Although they continue to get smaller and lighter, the weight they place on our time and attention is far heavier and nearing the point of crushing us.

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  1. Distracted driving is not a 21st century phenomenon or a creation of the cellphone. Approximatly 30 years ago my fathers bookkeeper lost a daughter when she was crossing a road in Calgary, in a crosswalk, and the driver of a car was changing his 8 track tapes in his car and didn’t see her.

    Similarly I recall another accident that claimed the lives of both parents, who were in the front seat, the 3 kids in the back survived when the car hit a light standard. Several witnesses stated that the driver and front seat passenger seemed to be distracted by the kids in the back seat and the driver drove directly into the light standard. This accident also occured about 30 years ago.

    The bottom line? Unless you are in the vehicle by yourself without a radio on and you are only focusing on the road you can be distracted.

    PS. Al Gore DID NOT invent the internet.

    • Today’s editorial is about how the present predominance of distracted driving by way of cell phone use (texting / talking / surfing) is an outcome of a society that has become distracted by an incessant need to feel connected. Thus there is a larger societal problem at hand. It is neither pro distracted driving law nor anti-distracted driving law.

      It speaks to how our attention span has fractured our ability to focus on any one task (relationships/work/reading articles all the way through)

      Yes, Al Gore did not invent the Internet. The reference is a bit of sarcastic humour following on a much used line of commentary by his opponents that Gore once made a comment about having invented the Internet. He of course did not make such comment, but then again he did not invent global warming either. The former is a hip reference, the latter, a bit of political commentary.

  2. While distracted driving is not in fact a new phenomenon, it’s probably as old as the car itself, it has reached new and incredibly stupid heights in recent years. Take into account the fact that everyone is always in such a hurry to get nowhere much faster than the first car could manage, all while they can’t be bothered to pay attention to the road and you have a much higher rate of incidents involving distracted driving. It basically comes down to people make really bad, dumb choices and the government feels they have to step in and save them from themselves. I sincerely hope and pray that the police very strictly enforce this law.

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