I should just accept the fact that cell phones are everywhere, but sometimes I still marvel at how the country so quickly reached a point that we can’t make a move without checking our phones.
I have a friend, long-time news reporter Chuck Raasch from Castlewood, who shares some of my wonderment. He spent much of his reporting career in Washington, D.C., where he saw people on their phones everywhere, most of them oblivious to anything happening around them. He calls that phone-induced trance: the “iPhog.’’
The ubiquitousness of handheld devices doesn’t keep me up at night. (A lot of other things do, but cell phones aren’t one of them.) Whenever I notice it, though, I’m puzzled. Sure, it’s usually none of my business. If I’m in the middle of a downtown intersection with a “Walk’’ light in my favor, though, and a cell-phone checking driver nearly runs me down and then gives me a scowl when I say “Hey,’’ then it totally is my business. And that has happened.
What set me off this time was a simple trip from Fort Pierre to the hardware store in Pierre. I like hardware stores. They make me feel like I’m about to do something productive.
This time, I stopped at an intersection a couple blocks from home. The coast was clear, but the vehicle ahead of me didn’t move. The driver’s head was down and cocked to one side. It appeared he was checking a phone, sending or receiving a life-and-death communication. I didn’t honk, but the guy behind me did. He seemed interested in pulling onto the highway and going about his business, and he had the horn to back it up. The horn startled the driver ahead of me. He checked his rear-view mirror and looked both ways. He scowled at me from his side window as he pulled onto the highway.
I pulled out and turned into the right lane. The guy behind me kicked in his afterburners, screaming by me as if my truck was up on blocks. He scowled at me as he went by. What’s with everybody scowling at me?
Partway across the bridge, I passed a kid walking on the pedestrian aisle. He had a pack on his back and a phone in his hand. His head was bent and he nearly bumped into a woman walking the other way. She also was checking her phone, but she remembered to look ahead every so often and avoided the collision.
At the first stoplight past the bridge, I glanced to the left. The driver in the next car was looking at her phone. I looked ahead again as a car crossed the intersection. I swear I’m not exaggerating. The driver of that car had a phone in one hand just above dash level. It appeared the driver was looking at the phone as he made the turn. I almost admired the guy. It can’t be that easy to turn across a fairly busy intersection while dividing attention between steering and surfing the net or whatever.
In the hardware store, I picked up some wood filler and a bucket of paint and stood in line at the check-out counter behind a kid who was — what else? — reading some stuff on his phone while the clerk waited for him to sign a charge slip.
The adventures that day were unusual, I know. I don’t usually notice that many cell phones in use. I nearly always see some, though. I should be worried about how many of the people on the highway were checking phones without me knowing. I suppose it’s rather like not knowing how many people on the highway around me are driving drunk or high on some other drug and how many are just plain distracted by, well, whatever — kids in the backseat, spilled coffee, a burger sliding around on the floor mat.
All driving distractions are dangerous. Many of them have been around a long time. I just continue to be amazed, and a little frightened, at how quickly and universally phones and their iPhog have joined the other distractions. It’s nuts.