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Nothing to LOL at

A couple weeks ago my attention got snagged by an Enterprise headline: “Students detox from cellphone use.”

Turns out our local high school, as an exercise in enlightenment, encouraged students to give up their cellphones that Friday, and approximately 65 percent of them did it.

I thought it was a noble gesture.

I also thought it was an empty one.

Before you grab your cell and start texting me nastygrams, hear me out, willya?

Here’s an instructive analogy:

What if the headline had said: “Opioid addicts detox from junk.”? Then you find out they’d taken the pledge for one day.

Chances are your reactions would be something like, “One day? They quit for only one day? Big deal. A drop in the bucket.” Or if you’re long in the tooth it might be “Coals to Newcastle.”

The fact is almost no one would think an addict giving up drugs for a day would put even the tiniest dent in the problem.

As a teacher (PSC, Ret.) my reaction to any lesson is, OK, now what’s the next lesson? Any lesson, no matter how insightful or brilliant, will. without further reinforcement, soon be as far forgotten as Yoko Ono’s lasting contribution to art.

Principal Josh Dann would apparently agree, since he said, vis-a-vis cellphone detox, “It’s about retraining our habits to think about what’s really important.”

The key word there is “retraining,” which means repeated reinforcement and repetition. The Friday Fling was a mere eight-hour blip. There was no mention of any systematic follow-up, only a vague reverence by Dann saying “..we’re looking to have the kids come to some kind of conclusion on this.”

I haven’t heard anything more about it. But even if there is, no matter what conclusions they come up with, I doubt they’ll reduce cellphone addiction. The sad truth is however many hours a day our students were glued to their phones before Detox Friday, you can bet your bip they’re spending at least as many since then.

I won’t bore you with the statistics, nor do I have to, since you already know we use cellphones, to use plain English, “too damned much.”

Whose job is it?

So am I saying our schools have dropped the ball here?

Not at all. Our school did what all schools do, which is try to pick up the ball everyone else has dropped. Because face it — it isn’t our school’s job to cure cell phone madness.

If it’s not the schools’ job, then whose job is it? Parents’? Priests? Police? Politicians? The Grand Wazoo’s?

Frankly, I don’t know whose job it is, I only know it’s not being done.

Am I now going to launch into a tirade about how our young people (and older ones as well) are turning us into a nation of cyber-junkies with concentration spans measured in nanoseconds and a compulsion to send and receive round-the-clock texts saying nothing?

No, I’m not — even though I think that assessment is true — if not understated.

Uh-uh, the issue to me isn’t our losing our abilities to read, write and think. As bad as that may be, there’s a much more serious issue – a literal matter of life and death. I’m referring to the lethal mix of cellphones and cars.

The worst-kept secret

Accurate statistics are hard to find on this because they’re under-reported. There are a lot of reasons for this. First, if some other distracted behavior was involved — drinking, changing a CD, feeling tired – that’ll satisfy the write-up. Next, it’s a lot of work to find out if cellphones were involved. And apparently there are all kinds of apps that make it more difficult. As for absolutely proving it was a cellphone at fault? There’s no breathalyzer for cellphones, is there?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, cellphones are now as much a part of our daily life as our clothes. In fact, I’d bet if on a February morning peeps had to choose between leaving for the day without either their jacket and hat or their cellphone, almost no one would would opt for sensible clothes.

So what does this have to do with cellphone car wrecks? Just this: Even though it’s proven that using a cellphone while driving (especially texting) is as dangerous as driving drunk, it doesn’t have the same stigma, or any stigma at all. If I told you that last night I pounded shots in Tupper and drove home loaded to the gills, you’d be disgusted and outraged. And rightly so. However,what if I said when I drove back from Tupper and spent the whole time talking with a childhood pal about our boy scout camp days? Chances are, you’d hear the story, but’d think nothing of my being behind the wheel and on the phone at the same time — even though it’s as bad as driving drunk.

So we know driving and using a cellphone is dangerous. We also know a whole bunch of people are doing both a whole lot of the time. And we surely know lots of accidents are being caused by this. In fact, almost all of us have at least one cellphone car accident or near-accident horror story we can personally verify.

None of that is in question.

But what is in question is what’s being done about it. Or even more pertinently, what can be done about it?

Possible solution? Wishful thinking?

I’d like to think we can educate people and raise their consciousness so they won’t use the phone when driving because they want to. I also think if that’s a possibility, it’s a far-off one. Spontaneous consciousness-raising seems as common as spontaneous human combustion. The current “solution” is to ignore the cellphone driving problem until a driver kills someone. Then, he’s thrown in a state slammer and the problem’s ignored until the next fatality.

A more practical solution might be what we did about drunk driving.

Fifty years ago, driving drunk was just par for the course, especially on weekends and holidays. It was something people even bragged about. And if you’ll look at old movies and TV shows, you’ll find drunks aplenty as figures of hilarity and even affection.

None of that cuts it anymore. If my students were going out to drink, they always had a designated driver. It was an unstated rule they understood and respected. And it didn’t just happen by itself. It took place as a result of all sorts of classes, programs, and lectures — both formal and informal — on how dangerous it was to drive drunk.

But it was more than words that changed this behavior. Fifty years ago, cops gave drunk drivers breaks and sent them on their way, perhaps more often than not. Certainly, there were people who had four, five, or more DWI busts and still had their licenses…and were still driving drunk. But changed laws and strict enforcement changed that.

Now, getting a DWI is an expensive proposition.. You get nailed for fines, lawyers’ fees, court and DWI classes’ costs, the car’s breathalyzer, probably other things I’m not aware of. Beyond that, DWI’s aren’t socially acceptable, simply because we know the drunk behind the wheel is a potential murderer, whether they want to be or not. And beyond mere social ostracism, drunk driving can now send people to state prisons.

All those things reduced DWIs drastically, and I believe they could do the same for DWT’s (Driving While Talking — or Texting). But I don’t think it’ll happen.

Driving while on a cellphone is already against the law. It’s also a law that’s almost universally disobeyed and unenforced. While experts can’t agree on the exact figure, all of them agree cellphone driving deaths are increasing – some would say spiking. But driving with cellphones has become as much a part of culture as reality shows and junk food – and as constructive as them.

The sad fact is problems don’t solve themselves. Small problems become big problems; big problems become living nightmares.

Right now, we have a problem with cellphones. And no matter how you cut it, it’s a big problem.

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