It is too late to limit ourselves from our distractions!!!
Learning to drive. We all started the same way. It was our first time in traffic. There were no distractions except a nervous adult sitting next to us. We were in the middle of an intersection waiting for traffic to clear so we could make a left turn. Then, the light turned red. Do we turn, back up, or just put the car in park, get out and resign ourselves to a life of public transportation? We had that one task to perform, single focus, and it seemed so hard.
Fast forward a decade or more later. Again, we are in the middle of an intersection making the left turn except now we are drinking coffee with one hand, turning the wheel with the other, pushing the HD radio volume button on the steering wheel with a finger on the driving hand and telling a caller (while in hands free mode) to hold on while we yell out the window to our kid to be home in time for dinner, while one foot pushes the gas and the other lets out the clutch, and our GPS is telling us to turn left in 15 feet while our gas gauge just flashed on and displayed how many miles are left before empty. "We've come a long way, baby."
I'll give away my age here, but thinking about all these simultaneous distractions reminds me of the performer on Ed Sullivan's TV show who spun plates on top of long sticks. He kept setting up spinning sticks/plates on the table until ... one fell. We have added our own sticks/plates to our cars in the form of conveniences. We added them, one at a time until collectively, we have realized, "Houston, we have a problem."
There is a finite end to our ability to manage distractions. And most likely some of us can handle multiple distractions well, while others don't get much past just learning to make that left turn. So, do we dumb down to the lowest common denominator, i.e., no phones, no GPS, no DVD's in the back seats, no connectors or broadcasters for our iPods?
I think we have crossed the line already and we can't/won't go back. We have all these things now, and whether we are geeks distracted by toys, mobile warriors getting crackberry fixes while the guy in traffic next to us is reading the paper WHILE DRIVING, or the woman driving next to us applies makeup while in cruise control, we allow ourselves to be distracted from the job of aiming a 2000+ lb. car going 60 mph without hitting another car, or worse, a pedestrian.
Certainly, as an evolved culture we handle more distractions than ever before while keeping a focus. And some people are in the 99th percentile and they can do it all at the same time. The problem is the people who can't, may find out they can't, the hard way. I read an article some years ago from Northwestern University's Safety Institute that said the better drivers have lower IQ's. The higher IQ'ed people make driving an intellectual event. They think about turning the car left and then turn the steering wheel to the left. They build in a "think about it step" that adds just an extra moment to acting and that can make the difference between a hit or a miss. The lower IQ's learn by rote and they become the steering wheel and brake. They see a problem ahead and their response is instantaneous, no thinking, just reacting. To me this means that the number of distractions that we think we can handle is inversely related to our ability to handle them.
We might need these gadgets, but no one will force limits on us. There won't be insurance tests to tell us how many distractions we can safely handle. There won't be limiters in the car to prevent us from rolling down the window while we make a left turn while we adjust the seat. Our cell phones won't automatically shut off when deers run in front of the car.
But, after the fact, there will be police investigations to discover whether we were on the cell phones or sending text messages when we plowed into the back of a garbage truck. And there will likely be little black boxes that will record what buttons we were pushing to program our GPS' when our car sideswiped the mailbox. That is reality. We will not limit ourselves before the fact. We cannot and will not do it. After the fact, lawyers and police will find ways to amass evidence to prove that we were distracted just before our accidents. It will be the first thing they look for.
Maybe one day, there will solid evidence that talking to our spouses after work is distracting and that it is the cause of such a high number of accidents that we will be prevented from calling or answering calls from our spouses during specific hours, unless we are stopped or connected through 911. Someone will collect that data and use it to smack us with another reminder that these gadgets create safety, convenience and a more enjoyable ride, except when all of them are used at the same time.
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