Editorial: Distracted driving one symptom of a distracted society

When the phone rang 20 years ago, it was generally for something important: a customer who wants to place an order, a colleague requiring detailed information on some joint work, or your mom giving you the latest scoop on your aunt’s recent gall bladder operation.

But then phones detached from the wall, got smaller, more powerful and suddenly we have the ability to let the world know what we are up to at every moment of the day by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the constantly-present text message.

Alberta’s distracted driving law is eight years old now and is the partial focus of RCMP, Sheriffs and Peace Officers this August as part of the province’s Traffic Safety Calendar.

There are a lot of distracted drivers on the streets and highways seven years after it became law. 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.

Tickets do not seem to be helping reduce the problem.

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 glowing screens 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 George Jetson was getting around in that cool little flying car we were all supposed to be driving now. Instead, we have become slaves to our smartphones, each beep, boop and ping causing us to salivate like Pavlov’s dog as we rush to respond to the most mundane of stuff.

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?

Although the phones have gotten smaller and lighter over the years, the weight they place on our time and attention is getting heavier and nearing the point of crushing us.

So let’s all slow down this summer and keep our eyes open – both in our vehicles and in life in general.

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