Cautionary Tales

I don’t get it.

I see it every day, and I still don’t get it.

People who can’t drag their noses off of the screen of their cell phones.  Not while walking (not that they’re really walking– more like shuffling along, and somehow ALWAYS while in the middle of the sidewalk), surrounded by friends or, and most distressingly, when driving.

The first two are just rude and pathetically clueless.  The latter is an obscenity.

A short documentary, about the preventable tragedies that can be completely eradicated if people would just use a little common sense and cut out the texting and driving, has been making the rounds on the social media.

Watch it.  It’s more than worth the half hour viewing time.  Those whose lives have been forever changed by something that has become shamefully ubiquitous deserve to have their voices heard- and those voices are filled with sadness and intense frustration.

This is something that has to stop happening.

I have been told that Oprah made a mission of highlighting the dangers of distracted driving toward the end of her run on network television, but it seems as if even her famously influential voice was crying in the wilderness to little effect.

I don’t get it.

Admittedly, I’m not of the generation that seems to be surgically attached to their cell phones.  A cell phone is a tool- handy, useful- but nothing more than that, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s hardly a life-line of any kind, and I have no problem at all turning mine off or leaving it behind for hours or days at a time.

I’m not someone that has to be constantly plugged in.  My job does not require me to be so, and for that, I am actually quite grateful.  I have commented before about the ways in which our constant access to information is actually taking away from our ability to critically examine that information.  I stand by that.  The constant bombardment of sound bites in 140 (or 160) characters is not making us smarter, or more worldly, or more connected.  Not in any real way.

The ‘multi-tasking’ that such tools allow for may well be making us better at superficial tasks, but those things that requires deeper investigation or understanding are moving farther and farther from our collective ken.

The persistence of people texting and driving, or using cell phones and driving, or putting on make-up while driving, is further dismaying evidence of an unreasonable sense of entitlement that way too many people seem to feel these days.

That anyone can truly believe that the text conversation they are having is more important than the attention that needs to be paid to adequately control a motorized machine… ?   I witness it constantly as I walk around town.  The number of near-‘accidents’ I see regularly is really quite staggering.

Motorists not paying attention to pedestrians and cyclists, cyclists not paying attention to motorists and pedestrians, and pedestrians as oblivious as the motorists and cyclists.

We don’t pay attention anymore.  Not to one thing at one time, anyway.  I’m as guilty of that as the next person.  As I type this, the television is on in the background.  Distraction pops up every couple of minutes- when the phone rings, or something on the news catches my attention.

It’s bad enough that this technology is interfering with our abilities to interact in person, and meaningfully, but when it puts us in positions in which we can choose to put our lives and the lives of others in danger… time to unplug and take ownership of our actions.

I have a close friend who lost  her brother when he was killed, while riding his bike, by a drunk driver.  Who had been convicted of impaired driving 3 TIMES before, who lost his license, paid a fine and was back on the road driving drunk again, this time hitting and killing a father of two who was on his way home from work.  I witnessed what that act, that selfish choice, did to people I care about.  I have seen how, more than a decade later, that single act still echoes through the lives of a family and extended group of friends who will forever be lacking something precious because one person made a self-involved decision and refused to take responsibility for those actions.

Cars, in the wrong hands, are weapons.  I admit that I know some people who would condemn that drunk driver one minute and get behind the wheel and send a text message in the next.

The thought is that it’s a matter of degree.  It’s not.  Being distracted or impaired- in any way- and behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle is a choice that is made.  We make these choices constantly.

If we rely on experience to guide these choices, we often make the wrong ones.  Most of us have never caused an accident while texting and driving.  Most of us haven’t killed someone when we get behind the wheel after a couple of beers.

The cautionary tale arose in folkloric traditions to warn listeners/readers of dangers.  The dangerous act, place or person would be described and cautioned against, and then the results when someone didn’t follow the advice to avoid the act, place or person.  It never ended well for those who went against the common wisdom.

Like most stories (religious, political, folkloric, legendary) cautionary tales are often used for propagandist purposes– to further the agendas of the people in power or as a means of exerting and maintaining control over the population.

As I’ve emphasized before, there can be danger in employing myths as attempts to justify the unjustifiable.  Cautionary tales- as a group- have gotten a bad rap for the exaggeration of the consequences that they often use as examples to modify behaviour.

But in cases where experiential data is not available to each and every one of us, our myths- and cautionary tales in particular- can illustrate the results of choices and actions.  This is certainly the case with distracted driving, and stories such as the ones told in the documentary are powerful learning tools.

Technology, while trying to keep us more connected, has actually served to distance us from one another, as we become increasingly self-absorbed.  As we respond to our texts, our Twitter followers, the comments on our blogs, messages about the latest Vine or Instagram post, we feel like we are interacting with a community.  And we are- in the best of cases.  I am amazed at the discussions that happen and the relationships that are nurtured over these media when they are at their best.

But it can also be very isolating, as we walk around in bubbles that exclude the real world people and surroundings in our immediate environments in favour of truncated thoughts, language and relationships in the cyber universe.

Werner Herzog’s documentary From One Second to the Next is a cautionary tale in the original, educational and socially valuable sense of the term.  It should serve as a wake-up call for those whose selfish oblivion refuses to take into consideration any consequences of actions- to themselves, and certainly not to others.

Such films are representative of positive uses of both story and technology and the ways in which the experiences of others, spread through social media, can positively impact the lives of those who they may never meet.

And it’s hard to imagine that anyone who watched the whole 35 minutes won’t think and act more cautiously, and responsibly, the next time they have the choice to pick up that phone while they are controlling a motor vehicle.

Let something positive come out of these experiences.  That’s what communication should be all about and is something worth texting to all possible contacts.

Just never when you’re driving.

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One comment on “Cautionary Tales

  1. […] with something that is thrown around as a negative descriptor a lot these days (I used it myself recently)- […]

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