It’s a good thing Gertrude Stein never said, “A phone is a phone is a phone.” Clearly, these days, her tautology would be a disconnect, received like a dropped call. The mobile devices we’re so dependent on, attached like an extension of our brains, are so much more. Ultimately, they allow everything to be knowable.
But while the smooth, mirrored glass on an iPhone presents a funhouse from which anyone can observe all the YouTube videos, Facebook updates, Tweets and apps, ad infinitum and at an instant — when blended with the speed of driving, it’s enough to send a person careening through the glass of a car windshield onto the hard, real world pavement.
Reconciling the collision of these two worlds will take some discipline, growing pains and — if the National Transportation Safety Board has its way — regulation. Last week, the NTSB recommended that every state ban the use of mobile devices by drivers. That includes hands-free devices too. No texting, no phoning, no nothin’.
Today, nine states and D.C. prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. Except in Maryland, all laws are “primary enforcement” — an officer may cite a driver for using a handheld cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place. As for text messaging: 35 states and D.C. ban it for all drivers. And even if you’re thinking of reading that text message at a stoplight, don’t. Maryland’s texting-while-driving law, which took effect in October, prohibits all drivers in Maryland from using an electronic device to write, send, or even read a text message while operating a motor vehicle in the travel lanes of the roadway.
Clear as a lens at the Space Telescope Science Institute, these laws make sense.
It’s all too common a phenomenon to look over, behind or in front and see a fellow commuter juggling the wheel, his coffee mug and his lifeline to the Internet, and want to honk a wake-up call so he get back to reality.
Yet, he who is without fingers should cast the first PDA out the window.
The challenge is, if these apparatuses are becoming extensions of us, providing guidance on how we live, shop, work and play, then how conceivable is it that we can actually exist sans contraption?
After all, we live in a world where media cannot not be found. We’ve become so accustomed to it always there, always on, that we reference it before we even look to the reality it’s supposed to be displaying. The postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard described this brave new world as hypereality, or as a map so detailed that it ends up taking the place of that which it is referencing. (By the way, he wrote about this long before there were Garmin GPS devices loaded in every new car.)
Navigating around the obstacles all this media displays, and more than a bit ironic (just as part of the virus is needed to create the antibody), Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google and an investor in Tesla Motors, has recently been on the road to achieving the vision of a driverless car. Indeed, it was reported that via artificial intelligence, deploying GPS video cameras and radar sensors, driverless cars — which have been successfully tested in California — could soon be all over our roads, with the result being fewer accidents and lighter, streamlined vehicles. Holy Knight Rider!
But until all our cars can drive themselves, we should continue to heed the advice given by the band The Doors: “Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.”
• Novick is a writer and communications consultant in Towson, Md. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. He wrote this for the Baltimore Sun.