On Sunday, The New York Times ran a long article about the dangerous use of cell phones while driving. It featured a young man who ran a stoplight while on the phone and hit another driver, killing her. He was convicted of manslaughter and given community service.
You know what really gets to me? Sometimes this guy still uses the cell phone while he drives. He knows he shouldn't, but sometimes he just can't help it.
That's because he's an addict.
Lawmakers won't pass laws against cell phone use while driving because they know it will send the public into an uproar. Give up our phones while driving, even though we know that talking on a cell phone makes us more dangerous than drunks behind the wheel? Never!
We're all a bunch of addicts.
You can't sit in a waiting room or stand on the sidelines of your kid's soccer game without hearing the click-click-click of people checking their e-mails on the blackberries or Twittering or texting or talking away on their cell phones. When we were at the beach, I saw two lovely thirteen-year-old girls riding their bikes down the shoreline--and texting as they rode.
Yesterday, in Maureen Dowd's NY Times column, she cited a professor whose studies show that using digital devices gives the user a "dopamine squirt." Dowd wrote, "That explains the Pavlovian impulse of people who are out with friends or dates to ignore them and check their BlackBerrys and cellphones, even if 99 out of 100 messages are uninteresting. They’re truffle-hunting for that scintillating one."
I have this vision of the future where everyone walking down the street is texting or reading texts and everyone in the museum, the library, the restaurant, the school room, is doing the same thing. What am I talking about? It's already happening!
I find it all depressing. There's a lot about digital technology that I love. I love Google. I love Blogland and podcasts. I think that the communities that exist only online can be real communities, and I feel that my Blogland friends are real friends. But I fear what we're doing to ourselves with our devices when we can't turn them off even when we know it's dangerous to use them.
And I worry about those two girls, texting away on their bikes, ignoring the beautiful sunset taking place right beside them. What memories will they take into old age? What kind of life is it when you spend all your time seeking out digital connections but not real, live experiences? What kind of culture will kids who grow up spending all their time texting, instant messaging, and twittering create? What kind of art?
In Chicago I hung out with a dear friend who has strong feelings about institutionalized religion (he's agin it), and I'm not always crazy about it myself. But I do have to wonder if there's a connection between our collective loss of belief that life has a larger meaning than just satisfying our personal wants and needs and the way so many of us fritter (or twitter) our time away. I also wonder if our seemingly lack of awe about the universe is connected to our dwindling respect for the fullness of language (if u know wht i mean ;)) and the idiosyncrancies of lives lived locally, communally and in real time and space.
I don't know the answers to those questions for sure (though I have my suspicions). What I do know is, if you can't drive without talking, even though you're perfectly aware that you're four times more likely than someone whose blood alcohol level is .08 to cause an accident, you have a problem, and you need help.
We all do.