Cell phones are deadly weapons of mass distraction

I think the most detrimental invention in modern history is the cellular phone.

The device is a technological marvel and it gives us abilities we could never have imagined at the close of the 20th century, but it has also created a source of distraction that is unparalleled in human history.

While I applaud the Texas Legislature for banning texting and driving in the state, I fear the ban does not go nearly far enough. I have seen a new and even more disturbing trend with drivers engaging in Facetime or Skype conversations while driving down the highway. I can’t begin to tell you how insanely stupid that is. You have got to be a complete moron to have a screen open like that while you are driving. It’s every bit as dangerous as texting while driving or driving drunk.

What is worse is it will lead to people watching videos or scrolling through social media when they should be paying attention to the road around them. Distracted driving is a serious problem people, STOP IT! If you’re behind the wheel of a car in motion, your phone should be turned off or muted and out of your face. You have absolutely no business talking, texting, playing games, watching videos or doing anything else with a cell phone when your hands should be on the wheel and your eyes on the road.

I’ll admit that talking on the phone while driving is a hard habit to break. I’ve been trying to force myself to do it but every once and a while I’ll slip up and answer a call. I’m guilty, so I know of what I speak. Still, I try to make a conscious effort to leave my phone in my pocket whenever I drive anywhere. You should too.

Cars are not the only place cell phones are a problem. Restaurants, schools, grocery stores, sporting events and especially movie theaters are plagued with people addicted to their devices. I seriously wish our local movie theaters would escort people out of the theater who turn their phones on during the show. With the prices we pay for movies these days, I absolutely hate having someone light up their screen to check a text or flip through Facebook. It’s more than distracting; it’s robbing the other paying customers the benefit of a full movie-going experience.

AMC, CineMark and the other theaters owe it to their customers to provide a distraction-free environment. It’s not enough to run the little public service announcements at the start of the flicks; they need to put some teeth into it. If you use your cell phone during a movie you should be expelled from the theater and not given a refund. If that happens often enough maybe people will learn not to use them.

I may be old school in this regard, but I think schools should be cell phone-free environments. They cause way too much distraction and are avenues for cheating. I think detention and suspension from extracurricular activities are appropriate punishments to consider when students use their phones during instruction time. We have the technology to block cell signals. I think it ought to be used in all of our school buildings during instructional hours.

I think it’s ironic that the connectivity we get through cell phones is also leading to some of the biggest disconnects of all time. Face-to-face interaction is becoming a dying art because people appear to be more comfortable facing a screen than another person. Going to a restaurant should be a pleasurable experience. It’s a time to dine and share conversation. It’s not a time to troll social media and scarf your food when it arrives.

There are times when I miss the days of phone booths. I remember when phone calls were personal and private. Now it’s not unusual to walk through a grocery store or retail shop and encounter someone carrying on a conversation in speaker mode so everyone can hear. There is no sense of etiquette and decorum anymore when cell phones are involved.

I wish I had the answer for this problem. Unfortunately, people will be people and until there is a significant change in technology I fear the situation with cell phones will only get worse before it gets better. The more that cell phone technology evolves, the more people will use them and depend on them. That will only increase the distraction factor.

The creation of the cell phone in many ways is a marvelous and wonderful thing when you think about all it allows us to do and enjoy. Unfortunately they to do not come with safeguards and a sense of ethics and responsibility. I almost hate to say it, but I fear we may need to consider legislation at some point to govern use of this technology that has so enveloped our lives.

I am generally opposed to having more government overreach into our personal affairs, but so many people are so careless and distracted that regulation might soon be necessary. That’s the way it has been with the development of many technologies. The automobile gave us great freedom but it also required volumes of governmental control to make it safe. As long as people are doing stupid things with their cell phones that endanger the lives of themselves and others, they will continue to do so unless brought under control.

Honestly, I hate the direction this column is going, but I also hate the thought of having a distracted driver kill or injure me or a loved one. I hate the thought that our schools could be producing graduates who can do little more than manipulate the technology. I hate the thought of interpersonal skills disappearing behind mobile screens.

Before any of this can come to fruition, however, we must first acknowledge these problems and dangers inherent with cellular phones and then focus on solving those issues.

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