News flash: Doing something that requires your attention reduces your ability to do other things at the same time which also require your attention


The New York Times points out that if you engage in an activity that requires your attention, then it reduces your ability to do other things at the same time which also require your attention. For some reason, however this is news when one of those things is sending text messages.

I wonder if, had contemporary news editors existed back in the days when books were invented, they would have published big scary articles expounding on the dangers of reading a book while riding a horse or chopping firewood.

Comments (28)
  1. Kujo says:

    I wonder if that’s how Washington took out the cherry tree.

  2. John says:

    Generally I don’t like the idea of legislating common sense, but it seems that idiots just keep getting dumber.

    See also: Idiocracy.

  3. George Jansen says:

    Somebody (John Keegan?) quotes the British military historian Liddell-Hart to the effect that "mankind tolerates abuses, but abhors innovations".

  4. Well, all I know is this:  I picked my 8 yr old son up from school last Friday and damned near got t-boned in an intersection because some idiot lady blew the red light doing at least 50 mph.  Why?  She was talking on her [explicative] cellphone.  I know this because after I managed to get out of her line of fire just in time, I looked back over to make sure I had the green light (which I did) and witnessed it for myself.  Her brake lights didn’t even go on until she had cleared the intersection.  Cell phones + driving = should be banned and first time offenders should be fined up in the quadruple digits.  Maybe this will send a message that these two activities together are [another explicative] dangerous!!!

  5. Andrew says:

    The problem is not that these types of articles exist. The problem is that these types of articles need to exist. People should be able to fixure out that driving and texting don’t mix but lots of people still do it.

    The recent California train accident may have been caused by texting. That alone is enough to bring out a fluury of articles.

    I have read an account of a teenage driver who, while texting, struck and killed a cyclist. The driver was convicted of improper lane usage.

  6. J says:

    I once saw a car full of teenage girls slam into a parked vehicle on the side of the road.  The cause was texting while driving.  It’s a mystery to me why none of the passengers alerted the driver of their impending crash.

  7. porter says:

    > It’s a mystery to me why none of the passengers alerted the driver of their impending crash.

    They were trying to but the auto-completion was making it difficult.

  8. I think this kind of thing is the exact thing that government and legislation were created to do: protect society from the elements within it who would recklessly endanger not only their lives, but the lives of others around them.

  9. lucas says:

    Of course, I doubt many people back then actually tried reading a book while riding a horse or chopping firewood. Texting while driving is so common it’s scary.

  10. Bob says:

    Apparantly the Amish don’t require the kids to join the church til they’re in their 20’s.

    This leads to them going out drinking, as people do, and then driving home. This is ok, because when you’re in a horse and buggy the horse still knows the way home even when you’re asleep.

  11. Dean Harding says:

    "This is ok, because when you’re in a horse and buggy the horse still knows the way home even when you’re asleep."

    Maybe one day we’ll come full-circle: http://www.cnet.com.au/cartech/cars/0,2000438541,339292162,00.htm

    This whole "texting while driving is unsafe" business is only a temporary problem… once cars are smart enough to drive themselves, we’ll be able to text all we like behind the wheel!!

  12. Jonathan says:

    There are cars which are smart enough to drive themselves, have an excellent natural-language interface, and solve all parking problems by disappearing when you’ve finished the ride. They are called taxies. People who wish to do things that don’t mix with driving, such as dirnking, texting etc should use those.

  13. J Wellbelove says:

    > Cell phones + driving = should be banned

    That’s been the case in the UK for some time now.

  14. George Jansen says:

    @Bob, @lucas:

    In Beyond the 100th Meridian, Stegner writes that the young John Wesley Powell would take along books to read on the drive into town. Since the horse didn’t read, there was no special danger there.

    And I have seen drivers reading the newspaper on the Washington Beltway, not just when traffic is stopped. The have the advantage over Powell’s horse in literacy but maybe not in sense.

  15. Michael says:

    @John: To paraphrase what Voltaire said: common sense is surprisingly uncommon.

  16. Kris says:

    I wonder if, had contemporary news editors existed back in the days when books were invented, they would have published big scary articles expounding on the dangers of reading a book while riding a horse or chopping firewood.

    Well, the folks reading back then probably wouldn’t be the ones chopping firewood. :)

  17. Trevor says:

    This has been illegal in the UK for quite some time now. Offenders are issued 3 penalty points and what was a £60 fine, but I think it is more now.

  18. David Walker says:

    Weirdly, it seems that having a conversation with someone who is not physically present takes more brainpower than talking to someone who IS there.  

    That’s why a driver talking on a cell phone (even with a hands-free headset) seems to be more dangerous than the driver talking to a passenger.

    Apparently the brain creates a virtual construct to represent the person to whom you are talking, if they are not there, and that takes some brain cycles.

  19. Rick C says:

    There’s actually nothing singularly dangerous about texting while driving.  Shockingly, Raymond’s post title nailed the essence.  Doesn’t matter whether you’re reading, eating, putting makeup on, texting, or what.  Laws banning texting while driving miss the point, in that regard.

  20. jcs says:

    "Apparantly the Amish don’t require the kids to join the church til they’re in their 20’s.

    This leads to them going out drinking, as people do, and then driving home. This is ok, because when you’re in a horse and buggy the horse still knows the way home even when you’re asleep."

    Bob:

    Yes, the horse knows the way home, but it won’t stop at stop signs.

    This very scenario has caused some very serious accidents in Amish Country.

  21. Ian Johns says:

    "Weirdly, it seems that having a conversation with someone who is not physically present takes more brainpower than talking to someone who IS there … Apparently the brain creates a virtual construct to represent the person to whom you are talking, if they are not there, and that takes some brain cycles."

    Although the virtual contruct theory is interesting, there are many more plausible reasons why talking over a phone while driving requires more concentration than talking to other passengers in the same vehicle :

    (1) Phone conversation volume levels & signal quality are not always optimal so both speakers must concentrate while attempting to listen & decipher a real-time conversation especially when …

    (2) Neither the driver nor the other phone call participant positively knows when the other has or has not adequately heard & understood their conversation, which often leads to negative acknowledgements from both parties ("Hello?" "Are you still there?" "Can you hear me now?", etc.).  This usually frustrate one or both parties; & since frustration from one activity usually focuses one’s attention on that activity thereby reducing focus on other activities, any frustration & additional focus on the phone concentration reduces the driver’s concentration on driving …

    (3) Also neither have the benefit of deciphering the nuances & signals from each others’ body language, something (subconsciously) available to speaking passengers.  At the very least, neither has the opportunity to read each other’s body language & realize that the other has or has not heard or understood the conversation, & automatically repeat or rephrase whatever points were not heard or understood.

    (4) Also, unlike (smart) passengers, a non-passenger phone call participant does NOT know when to defer speaking to allow the driver to safely concentrate on driving.

    I’m sure there are many more reasons why phone conversations are more distracting than conversations with others in the same proximity, likely due to the increase of physical information shared by close participants but not likely because of inner mind virtual constructs.

  22. Ian Johns says:

    "mankind tolerates abuses, but abhors innovations".

    Which is why America is slowly & idiotically turning into a police state where the smart & innovated are prosecuted — http://www.boingboing.net/2008/09/22/star-simpson-one-yea.html .

  23. Mr Cranky says:

    Let me summarize.  2/3 (or more) of the human race is fit to be slaves.

    And "democracy" is considered a good idea.

  24. Worf says:

    @Ian: I can think of one very important reason related to your number 4 – if you’re the driver and have to shut someone up, it’s far more acceptable to do`so in person than over the phone.

    Try saying "Would you be quiet for a moment?" in the car. `If you had a passenger, they probably won’t take offense, even if they were your mom, dad, or boss. Now try it over the phone, and they’re likely to be very offended.

    I guess when they share the same danger, they’re more understanding on otherwise rude things. But when they’re not there, the same feeling doesn’t happen – you’re too remote. (The same is true for many things – wars, accidents, disasters, etc – if they’re on the TV screen, it’s "less real" than if it happened in front of you. Nothing political here, just normal human behavior.)

  25. Mike Edwards says:

    Despite it being illegal in the UK, it’s surprising how many people you see still driving with phone in hand. And it’s often the wrong hand/ear combination, so for example the driver will use their right hand to hold a phone to their left ear.

    It’s depressing how many patently obvious things people of today seem to need telling, and it’s not just kids that need to be told.

  26. David Walker says:

    @Ian Johns: Plausible, maybe.  But I’m talkin ’bout fMRI studies.  

    Not while driving, but while talking on a phone versus talking to someone who is present.  More parts of the brain light up while talking on a phone.

  27. Ian Johns says:

    I’ve read that more areas of the brain are active when concentrating on a phone conversation vs. talking to someone that is present.  Maybe the "virtual construct" theory is semantically equivalent or similar to stating that the human brain is more active when talking with someone who is NOT present & whose body language, subtle nuances, & shared environment are not factors.

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