A Little Less Conversation

A length of tangled, curly cord, stretched as far as possible from the kitchen where family members might be perched to overhear, served to connect me with my friends when I was a teenager. Naturally that cord was attached to one of the two rotary dial telephones in our house–eventually, one phone was replaced with a modern push button model, which expedited calls somewhat.

Decades later, I can still recite on demand the phone numbers of several close friends from my youth, because memorizing was the only way to avoid the process of looking up a number in the fat phonebook.

Back then, making a phone call took a measure of time and intention, and was something a person could only do from a specific location–an office, one’s kitchen or maybe a phone booth (“A WHAT?” you can almost hear all those under-20s asking). Sitting on a swing and casually chatting, or phoning home from the grocery store to check what was on the list you’d inadvertently left on the counter, were unthinkable possibilities.

As Cole Porter aptly lyricized, “Times have changed.” Things I shuddered at when reading George Orwell’s “1984” have long since come to pass–people actually sign up to have their images visible as they speak long distance to others (Skype, anyone?), and Snapchat allows users to instantly send photo messages, only to have them vanish after a mere five seconds.

So it was with great sorrow but a cold jolt of recognition that we learned two weeks ago a 33-year-old wife, mother and nurse (Andrea Boeve of Steen) had died due to the alleged distracted driving (in this case, cell phone use) of another young person. While sadness at the loss of such a vibrant, needed woman was the predominant emotional response, I am confident many among us also gasped, “I could have been that driver.”

Our world has evolved in such a fashion that only a teeny percentage of individuals is without a cell phone of one kind or another. A June 2013 report of the Pew Research Foundation revealed that 91 percent of U.S. adults owned cell phones, with 56 percent having smartphones. The 12- to 17-year-olds aren’t far behind, with 78 percent of them claiming phones, 37 percent of which are smartphones.

With U.S. adult cell phone ownership having grown from 65 percent in November 2004 to 91 percent by 2013  (and presumably that figure has risen by now), the Pew researchers concluded, “Cell phones are the most quickly adopted technology in the history of the world.”

It’s likely that Andrea Boeve had a cell phone in her own pocket on the morning of June 30, and the driver who struck her wasn’t really doing anything most of us aren’t guilty of at least occasionally–fiddling with our phones when we should be concentrating on something else.

The grief and pain her family will continue to feel won’t quickly pass, but maybe Andrea Boeve leaves us all with another lesson, however unintended. At the time of her death, she wasn’t worried about her job but was instead experiencing a lovely summer’s morning with her two little girls, having taken them for a bike ride and a short visit to their grandma’s house. She was getting a little exercise, spending time with people she loved, making space for a few meaningful moments in her life.

We can all benefit from remembering that multi-tasking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, that we should appreciate the people we are with at the time we are with them rather than checking our phones every 23 seconds to see who ELSE might be wanting or needing to contact us. We should try to enjoy the moment we are in rather than always worrying about the next moments to come–those will arrive soon enough.

It might seem old-fashioned now, but maybe there was some merit in those long-gone, tangled-cord days, when we were essentially forced to do one thing at a time, to talk with one person at a time, to concentrate on our driving when we were driving and on our phone calls when we were talking, but not on both in the same split second.

Surely we can all learn from this tragedy: When you’re behind the wheel, make safe driving your sole focus.



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