The main difference between me and Dr. Frank Ryan is that I’m lucky enough not to live near any cliffs.
Ryan, the plastic surgeon behind many celebrity looks, was reportedly tweeting about his dog just before he drove to his death off a Malibu cliff. A person so familiar with the power of technology to change our bodies may have fallen victim to its power to distract our minds.
While Ryan paid the ultimate price for the mixing of social media and driving, he is certainly not alone in that behavior. The act of sending text messages while driving is so prevalent that at least nineteen states have already created laws banning the practice.
And I’m not pointing thumbs here. Have I ever checked email, read incoming tweets or responded to a text message while behind the wheel of a car? Yes. I’m usually at a stoplight or stuck in motionless traffic when I actually use my phone’s virtual keyboard. That factor might make might my behavior slightly less risky, but it doesn’t make it any less stupid.
While I can imagine either sending or receiving a message so pressing that an action would have to be taken at that very moment, I’ve never actually experienced such a scenario. The urgency that drives me to check Twitter or read an email while in the car is entirely a creation of my own mind.
All of this data can wait until later – and much of it can wait until never.
The temptation for drivers to participate in the realtime, social stream will only increase in coming years as Twitter, Facebook and other apps are built into our dashboards. Car manufacturers will attempt to include safeguards into their systems to prevent drivers from actually texting with one hand while they steer with the other. But the inclusion of the realtime web in our cars will be one more powerful suggestion that the information in the stream is so urgent and critical that it can’t wait until you park the car.
And drivers aren’t the only distracted folks on the road. Take a few commute-hour drives down 2nd Street in San Francisco and you’ll see what I mean. They are everywhere: Pedestrian zombies walking across the middle of a four lane road with their attention glued to a handheld. The compulsion to keep up with the stream has become so powerful that we’re gradually abandoning one of the first and most basic rules we all learned as kids. Instead of looking both ways before we cross the street, we look one way; down at our phones.
And what’s the point? Just because the technology is realtime doesn’t mean our behavior always has to be. Forget the obvious issues like walking into an intersection or driving off the road. When it comes to the net, we’re habitually guilty of LUI (Living Under the Influence). We sacrifice real life for realtime. We tweet vacation photos while we’re still on vacation. We share anecdotes about our kids when we’re spending time with them. And yes, we read and publish content from the driver’s seat of our cars.
Let me speak for everyone you have ever met, from a recent acquaintance to your closest relative: We can wait until you get home to see the photos from your vacation. You can share the funny anecdote about your kids after they’ve gone to bed. And nothing you’ve ever tweeted or shared is urgent enough for you do it while driving.
I’m not arguing that pressing the stream’s pause button is an easy thing to do. The internet twitch is a powerful force. But it’s worth taking a hard look at our behavior now because the omnipresence of the realtime web will only increase. We should probably try to figure out how to best manage that reality now because there are plenty of cliffs up ahead.