Commentary by Bill Buchanan
Findings in a recent study by the Transportation Department show drivers are distracted. “What’s clear from all of the information we have is that driver distraction continues to be a major problem,” said David Strickland, the top U.S. auto safety regulator and head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
How much are we paying you for these astute observations? It is certainly is reassuring to know that my tax dollars are being spent on vital research — research which provides information that everyone who has driven a vehicle in the last 20 years already knows. Yes, we are distracted. We are in constant communication with each other through e-mail, phone calls and texting. A hundred years ago, people in rural areas went weeks — even months with little or no outside contact. Today, if you don’t return a phone call or text within about 10 minutes, people start contacting local funeral homes, assuming you are dead. They send urgent follow-up “did you get this” messages, so that even more time is needed to sort and answer communications. We spend great chunks our lives sending and returning messages.
And while some messages are important, a great many are just ridiculous. For instance, I have two old fraternity brothers who forward every e-mail they receive. I get about five or six e-mails per day from each of them. These generally fall into four categories. First, there are the political ones. Since both are very conservative, these e-mails beat up on the president and all other Democrats. Then, there are the patriotic ones about supporting the troops. The next group consists of religious e-mails, also known as the “If you really love Jesus you will forward this immediately to 12,000 people.” Ironically, these are the same guys who also send dirty jokes and risqué photos. I don’t have the heart to tell them, but I just delete whatever they send before I even read them.
I have another friend who sends the same e-mails and YouTube videos you get from others, but Susan’s arrive about six months later. It is as if her computer is trapped in some type of time warp. When she was working full-time she sent these out in groups of four or five at a time. Now that she has retired, I look for that number to double.
As I enter 2012, perhaps I should consider taking a page from the playbook of an old friend I replaced as publisher in south Louisiana years ago. LaJeune, named after the Marine Corp training base, Camp LeJeune (someone in the family was not a great speller), was the definition of old school. LaJeune considered the electric typewriter hi-tech. Years ago, when the Internet was fairly new, the newspaper company I worked for held a seminar on the Internet and e-mail. I asked Tay Smith, one of the younger publishers, how the seminar went. “Pretty well,” he replied. “Some of us have been using the Internet and e-mail for some time, and so we were already familiar with it.”
I said, “What about LaJeune? How did he do?” Tay replied, “He looked like a hog staring at a watch.”
He may not have been in touch with the latest fads and gadgets, but every day, as I go through the mountain of e-mails and texts on my computer and phone, I think LaJeune may have had the right idea after all.