I'm having enough trouble with texting and eating, but the concern over texting and driving deserves some illumination. To begin with we not at all sure there is a strong causal link, despite the obvious distraction.
That doesn’t mean texting and driving isn’t dangerous. I’m sure it is. Cell phone bans may be a good idea, although the evidence that they save lives is mixed. But the overall situation is surely more complicated than TEXTING-WHILE-DRIVING EPIDEMIC suggests. The whole story doesn’t seem right — how can phones be so dangerous, and growing more and more pervasive, while accidents and injuries fall? At the very least, a powerful part of the explanation is being left out. (I wonder if phones displace other distractions, like eating and putting on makeup; or if some people drive more cautiously while they’re using their phones, to compensate for their distraction; or if distracted phone users were simply the worst drivers already.)Beyond the general complaint about misleading people and abusing our ignorance, however, the texting scare distracts us (I know, it’s ironic) from the giant problem staring us in the face: our addiction to private vehicles itself costs thousands of lives a year (not including the environmental effects).To illustrate this, I went through all the trouble of getting data on mobile phone subscriptions by state, to compare with state traffic fatality rates, only to find this: nothing:
The truth is driving fatalities continue to fall. Since we don't like facts that conflict with our casual observations we simply ignore the inconvenient ones. If the debate over climate change has done nothing else, it has enshrined the right to cherry-pick evidence as valid logic.
As various sources point out the link to traffic deaths is driving. The less you drive the fewer the deaths. Strong correlation, proven causal link.
Which leads us to how we perceive the risks of driving. Here's one unique analysis.
This whole situation reminds me of a thought experiment Joseph Gusfield posed in his brilliant, if under-appreciated 1981 book on drinking driving and the culture of public problems (a book, not incidentally, I have chosen for my “great books” graduate seminar this fall). Gusfield asks his readers to imagine that some all-powerful god has come to America and offers to give us a new technology that will make our lives immeasurably better by allowing us to go wherever we want, whenever we want, faster than we have ever gone before. The only catch? The god demands that we as a society sacrifice 5000 of our citizens every year for the privilege of this great technological innovation. Do we take that bargain? Would you? With our reliance on the automobile, Gusfield says, we already have. In rejecting the conventional wisdom and moralistic outrage about texting and bringing new data to bear on the dangers of just being in traffic on the roads, I think Cohen is just trying to force us to grapple with this consequences of this collective decision more honestly and directly. [More]
Maybe our world has exceeded our ambition to deal with it rationally, and we leap for easy shortcuts and visual information to label as common sense. More and more, however, good sense in uncommon. Unless we want to revert to a much less complex lifestyle, our eyes and embedded time-saving intuitive conclusions are going to lead us further away.