Saturday, August 21, 2010

Making Money on Killers Close to Home

Cell Phones, Texting and Apps

It's all about making money. The more people talk and text, the more money the cell phone industry makes, and the more talking and texting in vehicles the more people die. 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries are caused each year by distracted drivers on cell phones. According to the National Safety Council, more than 1.6 million traffic crashes a year are caused by drivers using cell phones or texting, which is 28% of all vehicle wrecks. Meanwhile, the wireless communications industry makes out like bandits as it sells its fancy phones with a multitude of apps on countless TV commercials and actively lobbies to defeat legislation prohibiting cell phone use and texting while driving.

It's about making money with war too. Quartz, gold, lithium and copper are essential elements used in the wireless communications industry and are all found in mineral rich Afghanistan. The burgeoning industry will benefit if the US and NATO nations can control the government there.

Since I have battle fatigue from writing about war, cutting through the fog and exposing its folly, let’s take a break and look at another killer, one closer to home - the contagious, infectious, and ubiquitous cell phone syndrome. Cell phone obsession can be rude, demeaning -- and deadly.

In 2006, financial writer Jon Markman wrote about cell phone addiction while touting investments in the industry as a big money maker. “When you get in your car, you reach for it. When you're at work, you take a break to have a moment alone with it. When you get into an elevator, you fondle it. And experts say it is becoming more difficult for many people to curb their longing to hug it more tightly than most of their personal relationships. With its shiny surfaces, its sleek and satisfying touch, its mysteries and air of sophistication, the cell phone connects us to the world even as it disconnects us from people three feet away.”

Cell phones have become an escape from reality and a costly social problem for Americans like other harmful addictions. They distract from important one-on-one personal contact. Have you ever noticed parents talking on a phone at a restaurant, paying no attention to their texting children during the meal and wondered if they did the same thing at home, or people chatting on a phone in their car, ignoring their fellow passengers? A high school teacher told me her students are distracted from learning by text-messaging and they use their multiple phones apps to cheat.

I enjoy making eye contact and greeting people I casually encounter, whether or not I know them, and feel good when they respond in kind. Now-a-days most of them are so into a phone conversation or texting while walking down the sidewalk, or standing on the corner, that they are oblivious to my greeting. Is it cooler to talk or text to virtual people than be friendly to a real person?

Industrial sociologist Jim Williams says we don’t have as many pals as our parents and, "Just as more information has led to less wisdom, more acquaintances via the Internet and cell phones have produced fewer (real) friends."

But there can be even greater damage. Our law firm focuses on personal injury litigation. We investigate the causes of vehicle crashes that injure our clients and damage their vehicles. As talking and texting on cell phones increases, the number of vehicle crashes caused by talking and texting drivers increases. It is a common occurrence to see a vehicle that swerves for no apparent reason and is slow to respond to changes in the traffic flow. When you pass it you will notice its driver talking to a cell phone or looking down to text or do some apps—maybe watching a movie or YouTube video, tweeting or updating Facebook on their Blackberry or iPhone. A survey shows that 52% of 16 and 17-year-old teen drivers confess to using cell phones and 34% admit to text messaging while driving.

Pedestrians preoccupied with their phones wander out in front of cars.

Manufacturers and distributors of cell phones and related devices face no consequences when texting, talking and apping lead to accidents, injuries or death. A lawsuit can be brought against the negligent drivers or their employers (if they are on the job) but not the cell phone company which enabled their negligent behavior. Cell phone industry lobbyists work hard to prevent legislation and regulation to prohibit cell phone use and texting while driving. They push driver education as the answer and pander to the libertarian notion of saying no to any government interference with an individual’s freedom to cause wrecks and kill or injure people.

It's all about making money -- and it's deadly. Let's stop the killers close to home. Ban cell phone use while driving!


  1. Never answer the phone.
    There might be some one on the other end.:-)
    Then what?

  2. It is an addiction. Someone on PBS just did a segment on a family who went on a camping trip just to get away from this kind of insanity. The father talked about how the kids would text each other when they were all in the house together but in separate rooms! Great piece.

  3. Msg from my oldest:

    "Mom! I almost never text!"

    "Sent by my iphone."

  4. To be cool you must be addicted to the (reality?) of the virtual world. All the demands to do social networking on cell phones and computers can be both addictive and totally exhausting. I am an activist who wants to do my little bit to persuade people that working for peace and social justice is a good thing and also have an obligation to lead our team of attorneys at our law firm. I will be 74 this Friday and have to do a lot of caffeine to keep it up.

    Thanks for your comments.

  5. everything is about making money nowadays isn't it?

  6. You are right about that, but greed has always been pretty strong in the US. Our "founding fathers" were money makers. They were mostly very wealthy white men and many were big slaveholders. They slaughtered the Native Americans and put them on reservations and took their land. Making war, working slaves, or selling cell phones that will get you killed, its all about making money.

  7. We were in California before, during, and after the cell phone law went into effect there, making it illegal to talk while driving. Huge boost to sales of hands-free sets of various kinds in the weeks before and lots of apparent compliance in the first weeks after--as indicated by the number of people seen at a stop light running their mouths hard while alone in the car, no cell phone in sight.

    Within a month, it wasn't uncommon to see a cop car in one lane at a light and someone talking on their cell phone right beside the cop in the adjoining lane--holding the phone to their ear. The cop wouldn't even glance in that direction. Within 3 months, everybody was back to talking on their hand-held cell phones while driving. And, as qwerty-keyboard phones became ubiquitous, the texting while driving was also going up and up.

    The state was losing funding for cops and highway patrol. There was no way they could enforce the cell phone law when their force was being scattered.

    Great time to pass this law; terrible time to try to enforce it. At best, the penalty for a talker or texter found responsible for an accident would go up if it could be proven that they were calling or texting at the time of the accident. Otherwise, this law just can't have real teeth right now in most states.

    And I don't know anybody who wants these laws passed more than I do, so this is not an excuse for ignoring the problem.

  8. Thanks for your comment Nance. I agree with you.

    I've seen one in-depth news report recently about California's experience with cell phone regulation and enforcement of the law and they were much like you described. I was out there for several months doing politics back in 1967-68 and have been back several times since. Driving on those very crowded and dangerous freeways and interstate highways that criss-cross the densely populated LA area was very scary even before cell phone distraction came along to make it downright terrifying.

    The problem is that the mobile phone industry is making so much money and does so much advertising on TV and elsewhere that you can't get the big media folks to really get on the story perhaps because of the money they are making running their ads. Like other industries that run a lot of ads (such as banking and insurance)the cell phone industry also does an immense amount of lobbying state legislatures and Congress. We also have the everybody's-doing-it so it must be OK syndrome.

  9. Actually I am all for banning cell phones while driving and in parking lots, restaurants, stores and on the sidewalk. People think I've lost touch with reality because I never take my cell phone with me when I go out. Instead of social networking we have a social wasteland and "communication" is a matter of gobbledegook.

  10. I couldn't agree more, Tom. Is it old fashioned to believe in face to face contact? I don't think so. It is a quality of life issue. My students and their siblings don't know reality any other way. Cell phones and texting is so "normal" to them that being without a cell phone is unbelievable. Thanks again for getting out your well-reasoned ideas.

  11. tnlib,

    Maybe I'm a Luddite, but I don't use my cell-phone anymore. I just tell people to call me at home or the office and leave a message or voice mail if I am not in. Judy and I are together most of the time on trips etc. and she has her cell with her so I can use her's when I need to. Maybe the folks who say you have lost touch with reality are so caught up in a virtual world that they have lost it. I spend enough time communicating in the virtual world of computers.

  12. Tim,

    I received an e-mail this morning saying that 46% of teens admit to texting while driving, 7 in 19 kids admit receiving pornography and 4 in 10 admit to being "cyber bullied" on cell phones. It appeared to be an ad from a company that can "stop texting and driving" and "monitors all web activity for dangerous content".

    I reckon if you want little kids to have continuous access to endless information (true, salacious or whatever) and entertainment from everywhere then let them have a cell phone with some "cool" apps. "All the other kids have them so why can't I have one too, Mom and Dad."

    I understand that many children sleep with their cell phones now rather than teddy bears.

  13. I feel sorry for those who have a cell phone addiction. I will glare or say something to the rude people who are yapping in restaurants (when I am trying to have a quiet, enjoyable meal), yapping in a movie theatre, yapping while at the symphony, yapping in the restroom, etc! Even if they are texting (I have seen that even in church), if it is bothering me, I will glare at them and then I will get up and sit somewhere else.

  14. I feel much the same, Anonymous. I don't know whether to be pissed or feel sorry for phone addicts.

    So very many people are constantly talking and texting on phones nowadays. They seem totally into virtual communication with others who are far away from their personal presence. They seem totally, and sometimes very rudely unaware of their own physical space and surroundings. This is true for drivers and pedestrians and nothing could be more dangerous to their personal safety and others in their paths and near vicinity. I wonder if they feel happier and safer than they did 8 or 10 and years ago when almost no one carried a phone?


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