I’m on Atlanta roads an extraordinary amount of time each day. As a work-from- home mother, I commute to a preschool clear on the other side of town, which on a good day and in the carpool lane, takes us 45 minutes to an hour to arrive at the school, and then another 45 minutes to get home.
Fast-forward six or so hours later, and it’s time to make the two-hour trek to retrieve my youngsters. All this is to say that I am getting an extraordinary amount of research time on the road in my informal survey of drivers who are looking at their phones in a moving vehicle.
It’s not a scientific number by any means, but I think it’s safe to guess that on morning and afternoon commutes, I see at least six out of 10 people scrolling through their smartphones, a puddle of drool forming at the side of their mouths (I imagine). This is when our cars are in motion. I’m not talking about the people stuck in actual unmoving gridlock—we’ve all been there. There’s a huge sign above the lanes on I-75 near Turner Field stating that texting while driving makes crashing 23 times more likely. But it’s not the texting that people are doing. It’s the mindless scrolling that I think people are doing. It’s social media—the black hole, the mind suck, the vacuum that convinces us that we’re connecting with the world when it’s anything but.
To the people swiping Tinder, retweeting on Twitter, liking on Facebook and heaven knows what on Grindr at 8 a.m., I have a message for you: GET OFF YOUR PHONE!
I know it’s hard to hear. I’m no innocent hands-free angel myself. I’ve certainly sent the on-wheels text message C U SOON ILY (which my iPhone quickly transforms to “I love you” for me). But ever since that girl tragically died when she crashed her car after she updated her Facebook status that Pharrell’s song “Happy” made her so happy, I realized that nothing is worth it— not a status update, not a text, not a phone number, not a laugh at a cute meme, not an “aw, hugs” on someone’s sad status or even a thumbs-up emoticon to let some- one know I received their text and I will get back to them later. Anything that risks your life, the life of someone else or even just the time and money spent repairing one or more cars after a fender-bender is just not that important.
Of course, the larger issue is our smartphone addiction. We’re glued to our gadgets while standing in lines, sitting at doctors’ offices, on our sofas, at our kids’ recitals and soccer practices, walking on streets and at meetings. We pretend we’re doing something important. Sudoku and Scrabble to work our brains! Tinder and Grindr to improve our sex lives! Facebook to connect with friends! Twitter and Tumblr to get our news and learn about new things! You know what it’s also called? Escapism. Addiction. Information overload.
I know what I’m about to say is not easy to think about. You probably get shaky just being five feet from your phone. But consider taking a break from your device for at least 10 minutes every hour, and when you’re driving, put it in the glove box.
Kirsten Ott Palladino is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Equally Wed Magazine. You can reach her via email firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter at @kirstenop.