These are triumphant times for humans. We are decisive winners of Darwin’s game. Sure, an occasional rhino might trample your safari group, or a Xanax-addled chimp might not like your friend’s new hair cut. But in most situations, the human is king. Like prepping Alec Baldwin for a love scene, we can shave down any forest, barbecue any animal, even send a bullet-proof Pope to The Bronx. We are invincible! With all natural threats eliminated, what’s a conqueror to do? Wait for the aliens? No. We create our own enemies. I’m not talking about dirty bombs, Terminators, or Chinese milk. I’m referring to the weapon of doom in your pants right now – your cell phone.
This week, Google was sued for $100K when a woman got hit by a car after following Google Maps to the bitter end. She lived…and will likely procreate. Sadly, she is not alone. In New York, we’re surrounded by people who listen to music, operate iPhones, read Kindles, or craft winkey faces to their mistresses – as they CROSS THE STREET!
Being the pseudo-scientist that I am, this weekend I lingered at Union Square and counted how many people were distracted or impaired while crossing the street. I ranked them from safest to most suicidal:
- No distraction: 27
- Music only: 12
- Reading: 6
- Operating a phone or reading some gadget: 37
- Typing: 11
- Other (taking pictures, looking the wrong way, pushing their kid’s carriage into traffic, being a tourist): 7
Women were the worst offenders, by an almost 2:1 ratio. Wow, they are better communicators! Does this foreshadow a post-apocalyptic future where the streets are littered with four inch pumps, shattered iPhones, and inexplicably large handbags?
This addiction to portable toys is so powerful, it’s turned pedestrians into wild hogs and taxis into hillbillies with grills. I remember a time in New York, when every one of these people would have been mugged. Hell, I wanted to mug them! …if only to teach them a lesson. Unfortunately, I was there in the name of science…and blogging.
Unwittingly, the distracted masses have outsourced their safety to another, even scarier urban predator, the NYC cab driver. Unlike the jaguar, he races through the urban jungle while texting, eating pungent chicken, and plotting his vacation to Pakistan over Bluetooth.
This dangerous trend is everywhere. And, legislation will have a hard time competing with The Jersey Shore on your iPhone. Here are a few ideas to save humanity, and more importantly, those saucy gals from Sex and the City:
- Phones with sonar-based proximity sensors, like the fish finder on your new boat, ‘The Situation’. When a car or other sizable obstacle approaches, the sensor would set off an alarm on your phone. Theoretically, this could also work with WiFi or Bluetooth.
- Microphones in special headphones that pick up a high-frequency sound emitted by vehicles as they approach you. These would trigger an alert in your device and tell you where to look before you’re splattered on I-95.
- A standard kill switch built into cars and all portable gadgets that disables portable electronics while the car is moving. If activated, you would receive a discount on your insurance, or a coffin, in case of malfunction.
- Safe mode – use the accelerometer on your phone to determine your speed. Once you’re moving over a certain speed, the phone goes into sleep mode. This could also be used in conjunction with a retinal scanner (at some point).
- Transparent displays on glasses that show info from your phone. Yes, you’ll still be distracted, but surely no car would ever hit someone that fashionable.
- Phone cameras that display a 360 degree fish-eye view of the street in a small window on your phone when you are moving.
- Force buyers of portable gadgets to buy liability insurance, which will go up in case of an accident. Nothing like a good old fashioned economic incentive.
- A higher crime rate. Fear might keep you from taking out expensive gadgets in public, unless of course you downloaded the new Dirty Harry app.
- Enforcement. If highly publicized and strictly enforced, it could scare offenders, especially ones with inferior phones.
Of course, there is a simpler solution… Then again, they don’t pay me the big bucks to tell you to put your phone back in your trousers.
by Steve Faktor
For more musings, visit www.ideafaktory.com – where everyone is an ordained uni-tasker.