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One thing at a time

October 9, 2014
Joyce Schenk , Westfield Republican

The television reporter stood in front of a mangled pile of debris that had once been a shiny new Toyota. The scene was the result of a distracted teenage driver meeting an inconveniently placed telephone pole.

Interviewed in his hospital bed, the 18 year old admitted he had been texting his girlfriend at the time of the crash.

This kind of story, now a regular part of today's newscasts, is sad proof that we humans don't do well at multitasking. With the ever-expanding collection of electronic gadgets available today, there are countless folks out there trying their hands at doing many things at one time. Down through the ages the results of such distractions have been disappointing.

In fact, an early Roman sage noted way back in the 1st century AD, "to do two things at once is to succeed at neither."

But, like many bits of wisdom, such observations must be learned all over again by every generation.

There's no question that many of our day-to-day activities don't require our full attention and can be done simultaneously. It's easy to fold the wash or knit while watching television. And it doesn't take much concentration to mow the lawn or wash the car while listening to music on an iPod.

But in this day of advanced electronics, operating two or more complex items at once is often doomed to failure. From what I've observed, talking on a cell phone or worse yet, texting messages while driving is about as safe as juggling loaded handguns.

Some years ago, back when cell phones were the latest fad, a successful businessman friend of ours became so enchanted with his new phone that he was seldom without it. One snowy day in Jamestown, he was paying more attention to the conversation on the cell than his driving. He pulled out of a side street into oncoming traffic and was broadsided.

Though badly injured, the young man survived. But the accident left him unable to continue his business, unable to take care of his finances, unable to live alone.

It's hard to remember a time when cell phones, iPods and other electronic wonders were not a part of our lives. Back in the "old days" our phones were tethered by cords. To hold a telephone conversation, we had to sit down and actually give the other party our attention for as long as the call lasted.

Now, however, undivided attention is very hard to come by. Distraction seems to be an ever present part of our lives.

Because so many drivers are convinced they can operate a vehicle under any circumstances, a growing number of states are outlawing the use of hand-held devices while driving. New York was an early entry into this list.

But laws can only do so much to discourage such activity. With all the media coverage of the folly of driving distracted, it seems people would get the message. Unfortunately, too many feel they have superhuman abilities others don't possess. They are convinced they can easily handle driving while texting or calling or even drinking ... with no consequences.

Hospitals and graveyards are full of folks who had to learn the foolishness of multitasking the hard way. Just ask the teenaged driver of that once-shiny Toyota.



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