Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Fear in the Cage

I rode away from my house this morning for no particular reason with no particular destination in mind. It was sunny and the 20 degree Fahrenheit temperature was bracing. The Vespa moved easily up the hill and before long I was riding along Brush Valley Road. Something felt different, I was riding more fluidly and the scooter, the road and I seemed perfectly in tune. It’s a lovely feeling.

I stopped to make this photograph and just take in the world. It was nice to just be out in it. No cars or trucks, just me. As I rode towards town I started seeing other vehicles and began to notice how many people were talking on cell phones. I had read Dan Bateman’s post on Musings of an Intrepid Commuter about this subject and it got me thinking. Before I go on I need to confess that I talk on the phone while driving. And I’ll also admit that I believe that I can handle it. After all, I’m different than everyone else, I’m a better driver, I’m careful, blah, blah, blah. I know this is a rationalization to feel better about talking on the phone knowing how dangerous it is.

I thought about this while riding into town. I stopped at a traffic light and watched five cars pass in front of me. Four were on the phone. I saw more pass while I parked the scooter at the library. I saw people walking down the sidewalk talking on the phone and one person answered a particularly loud and annoying cellphone in the library. I’ve been chewing on this all day. What is going on with cellphones? How did we ever live without them?

I carry a phone with me while I ride but never think of using it while riding. When I “need” to use it I pull over. Works fine. But for some reason the idea of pulling over while driving is especially repugnant. There is a genetically coded imperative that whispers in my head to never let anything interfere with the forward motion of the cage.

Examining the “need” to use a cell phone reveals much of the root of this issue. Their isn’t much need. When I think of the times I talk on the phone while driving it is either because someone has called me, or I’m in too big a hurry to stop to call, or I’m bored. Let’s say the first two are important---the EMT is calling to find out a family member’s blood type and the second is because I’m rushing to pick someone up and I’m late and I want them to know I am on the way. Justifiable uses but not real frequent. If that was all cell phones were ever being used for there really wouldn’t be much of an issue. But that last one – boredom – that’s where the cell phone really shines.

I think boredom masks fear. Fear of being alone. People can’t stand to hear the voice in their head and they’ll go to great lengths to avoid it. The cell phone is just one of the many devices that can be deployed to make sure we don’t have to face ourselves. While riding I am never bored. Another benefit of two-wheeled adventure, even if merely commuting.

I’ve made a decision to not use the cell phone while driving. I want to afford others the same courtesy I expect from them when I am riding.


irondad said...

Katie and I went out to dinner last night. While we were there a woman across from us answered her ringing cell phone and carried on a conversation. I told Katie what I had read about movie theaters considering installing signal jamming equipment. This would make it pretty difficult for people's cell phones to disturb other patrons. Since it's illegal they need permission from the FCC. There is some opposition from parents who are worried that the babysitter will not be able to find them if there's a problem.

Katie, in her simply profound way, asked what people did before cell phones and other gadgets. It seems like people have become willing slaves to technology while giving up their own capabilities.

I think you're totally right about the boredom part. Whatever happened to the ability to entertain yourself by thinking about things deeply? I guess it went the way of sitting on the front porch and visiting with passing neighbors. People's world has been reduced to no awareness other than a limited space around their body. You see it from kids to adults. Everyone's plugged in to and isolated from their surroundings.

Honors to you for taking a stand. I like the comment about not letting anything interfere with the forward movement of the cage. Have you heard the song by Alabama: "I'm in a hurry and don't know why. Rushing and rushing until life's no fun."? So true.

Sorry for the long comment. It just shows your ability to connect with us by your words. By the way, I'm flattered to be a temporary star on your blog post!!


BillieS said...

On the Vespa you are riding.
In the car you are driving.

hrw115 said...

I would like to add to this commentary that being on the other end of a cellphone conversation is not all that particularly enjoyable either.

I get calls from you when you are at the drivethru of some burger joint - or at wegmans - and I have to be patient with the "hold on - I have to put the phone down so that I can pay" - or "hold on - they are about to take my order" - or "hold on - I will call you right back, the coverage isn't that great in this area". "can you hear me now?"

It is my understanding that Penn State is thinking about moving towards having seminars and classes available as podcasts so that "students wouldn't have to attend class - they could just listen to the podcast". Excuse me?! Most students don't even have the capacity to speak up in class and ask questioins when they don't understand concepts. It will be about a joke when employers turn around and post job descriptions looking for qualified candidates with "excellent communication skills". They will be able to thank the fact that their qualified candidates have become so socially undeveloped that speaking up in meetings, expressing ideas, developing teams, and cultivating meaningful work environments is almost an impossibility short of any baptism by fire approaches to every day work life.

When did technology become such a necessary thing? Why do people need a cellphone in a restaurant or in a a movie theatre? If you have a babysitter - wouldn't you expect that they would be responsible enough to maturely handle a crisis situation without you feeling the need to intervene within the short span of hours you are gone? Wouldn't you ask a responsible party to watch your kids?!

boredom and fear of losing control.

Use a cellphone to dial 911. Save the talking for a nice family dinner. Do people even have family dinners anymore?

irondad said...

Wow, Hannah, don't be so shy! Totally perceptive comment about the social retardation.

On a side note I saw a comparison with how a passenger distracts a driver with how a person on the other end of the phone distracts a driver. An interesting observation was that a passenger will see the same trouble developing as the driver. In most cases they know enough to be quiet and let the driver put more attention into dealing with the hazard. A person on the other end of the phone won't see it and know to be quiet. It seems to be hard for the driver to say "wait while I deal with this".

By the way, Steve, I would be interested in your thoughts on what a person finds in their own head that's frightening to them. I always thought it was the vast echo of emptiness!

hrw115 said...

I think the reason I had to ask how one feels safe on a vespa in one of the last posts - was because I do worry that people in cars potentially underestimate the concentration needed to avoid potentially dangerous situations.

My father purchasing a vespa was probably the best thing he could have done for himself. Admittedly when he first told me he bought it - all I could think was...."omg - you're too old! you aren't limber enough - what if you get hurt!" lol. I still think those things - but they just come out in different ways now - like..."please don't compromise on protective gear." ;) I can't hardly help it that I'm a worry wart. What can I say.

On the other hand, it made me glad to hear in his last post that he views his riding technique much in the fashion as though he is invisible - the only way to ride safely - and though I have never ridden a vehicle like a vespa before - I can't imagine that statement to be any more true. This statement however, means that when he is riding - he is focused on nothing but the riding itself.

A driver in a car on the other hand can get away with focusing on many things (cell phone, child in the back seat, work stress, etc.) without potentially causing an accident. However - as we know - this is not *always* the case. We are indeed sharing the road - and it would be nice if people could leave their fear, ego, or boredom in another place while they are on the road. Someone's life may depend on it. I think we simply don't have the ability to say "wait while I deal with this situation".

irondad said...

It's great that you worry about your father. My firstborn is a girl and she just turned 25. I'm sure Steve appreciates your caring attitude as much as I appreciate that fact that my kids care.

You seem interesting. You obviously have a brain. There's the courage to say what's on your mind in a civilized and intelligent way. I'm sure Steve's as proud of you as I am of my girl.

The comment you made about a rider having to concentrate totally on the ride while a cager can get away with more inattention is a key point.

The fact is that we two wheeled riders do need to pay more attention to look after ourselves. Its's this very thing that makes it so rewarding for us. It sounds like a tired cliche but we really do live more intensely on a bike. It's because we either do it and prosper or neglect it and get hurt or worse. We start tuning into our environment more intensely because we have to find trouble before it finds us. Somewhere in the process we start noticing things like smells, the way the air feels, the colors and sights that we aren't boxed off from and so many other things. Things that you just can't experience in a car with it's distractions. The reward becomes of greater proportion than the danger.

Keep reminding your father to take care of himself. Allow him to find his two wheeled treasures.


Steve Williams said...

Wow. A lot of ideas to respond to.


Thinking is not very entertaining to most people. Pursuit of material wealth and success as goals require directed thinking but the sort you are talking about is viewed as non-productive or frivolous, a selfish indulgence. And then there is the terror that can arise when you think too long---you might start to see a lot of empty places in your life that are uncomfortable... And last, a lot of people want to just escape from everything. Spending, drinking, drugs, gambling, TV, sex, whatever.

Without a doubt life can be terribly chaotic. For me, most of the chaos is brought on by the choices I make. I just do things without thinking.

Hannah is always after me about something. That's good though. Hopefully she'll see the wonders someday of two-wheeled riding (motorized).


Cell phones are pretty bad. I still carry one but I keep it turned off most of the time. People who use them regularly get kind of peeved that they can't just call me. I'm beginning to see the cell phone like I did the BlackBerry I had for work. Just a miserable piece of technology if not kept in check. So I will carry it for emergencies and keep my conversations face to face.

Gary Charpentier said...

Steve, your statements about how people are trained and conditioned for directed thinking are right on the mark. When I talk to people, it's like I have to draw them out from behind the wall in order to really make any kind of connection.

The isolation of modern life is killing our traditional society, and replacing it with little cells in which we receive the approved propaganda and our instructions for the days ahead. As a reaction, some of us gather into small, exclusive tribes. This further polarizes us as a country.

I don't know if there is any kind of intentional agenda behind this, or if we just can't handle our technology.

But of course, this is a scooter blog, right? Sorry to have blathered on so.

Ride well,

I will now attempt to post this thing... it didn't work the last time.

Steve Williams said...


I think we just can't handle the stress that technology helps create. Adding cell phones and computers to years of television just is mind numbing.

I'm not sure what we can do about it.