Mediaculture: Reflections on the effect of media and culture on our faithby Gordon Houser
Pay attention to what you hear.—Mark 4:24
Wake up.—Revelation 3:2
Addiction hurts. It can even kill you and others. And here I’m not discussing alcohol or drug addiction. I'm referring to cell phones.
Distracted driving has gained much attention lately because of the inflated crash risk posed by drivers using cell phones to talk and text. One study has shown that 28 percent of driving accidents are caused by someone’s inattention while using a cell phone. And the government recently introduced a law penalizing truck drivers and bus drivers for texting while driving.
The danger of such behavior seems obvious, yet it persists. Why? Are people so addicted to using their cell phones that they ignore basic safety? It seems so.
Now we hear of another problem: "distracted walking—which combines a pedestrian, an electronic device and an unseen crack in the sidewalk, the pole of a stop sign, a toy left on the living room floor or a parked (or sometimes moving) car," writes Richard Perry in The New York Times.
How widespread is this problem? Perry reports: "Slightly more than 1,000 pedestrians visited emergency rooms in 2008 because they got distracted and tripped, fell or ran into something while using a cell phone to talk or text. That was twice the number from 2007, which had nearly doubled from 2006, according to a study conducted by Ohio State University, which says it is the first to estimate such accidents."
Most often it's young people who injured themselves. About half the visits studied were by people under 30, and a quarter were 16 to 20 years old. But more than a quarter of those injured were 41 to 60 years old.
I walk regularly, and I know that even in a small town a walker needs to pay attention. We live in a car culture, and drivers don't always watch for walkers. All it takes is one inattentive driver, and you are in big trouble. Not giving attention to where you are walking only adds to the danger.
I'll repeat: This all should be obvious. Then why is it so widespread and such a growing problem?
Perry reports the finding of a recent study at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., by psychology professor Ira Hyman and his students:
"One of the students dressed as a clown and unicycled around a central square on campus. About half the people walking past by themselves said they had seen the clown, and the number was slightly higher for people walking in pairs. But only 25 percent of people talking on a cell phone said they had, Hyman said."
The term for such preoccupation is "inattention blindness," meaning a person can be looking at an object but fail to register it or process what it is.
Hyman was particularly fascinated that people walking in pairs were more than twice as likely to see the clown as were people talking on a cell phone, suggesting that the act of simply having a conversation is not the cause of inattention blindness.
You can come up with your own applications for inattention blindness. It certainly can place its practitioners in danger, but it also hurts—or kills—others when vehicles are involved.
Since we are called to pay attention to how we live out our lives as followers of Jesus, we may want to ask ourselves, What may be blinding us? What addiction is hindering our Christian walk?
Gordon Houser, associate editor of The Mennonite
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