Technology is advancing at an accelerating rate. “Steps” in innovation that previously took years are now taking months. Each new iteration of the smart phone increases our connectivity with our digital lives and selves. Increasingly, when we think, we don’t do it alone, but with the help of
That integration between technology, our own lives and indeed how we use our brains for tasks large and small complicates the issues surrounding cell phone use and driving. Obviously no one should use cell phones or even hands-free devices to call or send texts while driving. But now that we think using these tools, is it time to re-evaluate the whole debate?
On the Huffington Post, I drew on the work of anthropologist Amber Case who she believes that we are all, effectively, cyborgs, because of how we have integrated technology into our cognitive habits. She is at the fore of a movement to better understand the way humans use interactive technology, and her thoughts helped me grapple with the driving and cell phone issue:
Consider all the times you’ve Googled something that you can’t believe you didn’t know. Or the notes that, despite not being about a pressing matter, you texted someone rather than wait to tell them in person. The way we perceive reality has been shifted so that in our minds, we consider ourselves connected to a greater amount of information through our devices. These are not external, but a part of our internal knowledge. You know where the nearest restaurant is not because you can recall it immediately, but because you can use an Internet program to find the answer immediately. In function, there is no difference.
So when someone resists not using his or her phone while driving, it’s because this technology is a part of our cognitive habits. It’s not a hammer we pick up for a specific purpose then put back down, it’s an extra lobe of the brain.
The implications of this reality, if we accept it, are pretty dramatic. It means we should stop building cars and roads for the humans we used to be, and start planning for cyborg life.
I can’t say as anyone has figured out exactly what to make of this question. We are not the same people who have been driving in cars, riding on bikes and walking in streets for a hundred years. Those dynamics are all complicated by the fact that each of us, usually is connected to a smart phone–whether to listen to music, talk to friends, look up directions, whatever– while we move about.
Moreover this isn’t some problem for only the tech addicted. While driving or walking to riding, who hasn’t had a thought or question pop into his or her head that only a device connected to the internet could answer?
When we drive, we think. When we think, we increasingly rely and work with smart devices to augment the scope of our minds.
How do we account for this in the roads, sidewalks and cars we build?
Can we really expect driving to be one of the only activities for which we give up this part of our “mental self”?
For now, we must. But if Case’s theories are on target, we are on the cusp of a reinvention of the way we interact with our cars. There’s no question that automakers are increasingly moving in that direction, because that’s where the demand is.
So far, the results are mixed. Even using on board interactive systems while driving raises the danger level. Still, we should probably encourage car makers to perfect these systems rather than pushing to outlaw them. Interactive technology is simply a part of the modern human experience. Denying that reality could be even more dangerous than indulging it.
Photo Credit: Mo Riza