I clearly remember the first time I felt my cell phone vibrate. I was alone, driving a low budget rental car on a surprisingly empty southern California freeway. It was dark and I was somewhat lost. I preface my lostness with “somewhat” to placate my masculine sensitivities. However, totally lost may be a more objective description of the situation.
I had just finished a long day of doctoral classes and was attempting to locate “by feel” the neighborhood of my prepaid discount hotel. As the graffiti increased, I began to contemplate the possibility of the Crips, Bloods, and me all booking the same hotel through Priceline.
My premature gang war fears did little to help locate my hotel. Yet my paranoid thoughts did help pass the time as I drove aimlessly along unfamiliar strips of the interstate. For those unacquainted with the southern California highway system, it is primarily designed to ward off visitors. This is done through creating freeway scenarios that cannot be logically anticipated.
For example, five lane thoroughfares will frequently and suddenly split in two, sending three lanes of highway in the opposite direction. The road signs usually announce these radical changes the moment they arrive. This gives the nonnative driver approximately three seconds to merge over four lanes of bumper to bumper traffic. One of the main reasons there are tourist attractions in San Diego is some visitors were simply unable or unwilling to merge over the necessary lanes to reach Anaheim, let alone Disneyland.
To keep from endlessly taking two lane detours in the wrong direction, visitors and vacationeers are forced to travel in the middle lane, vigilantly scanning the horizon, in search of the labyrinth’s next turn.
On the night of my “almost” lostness I was confronted with the opposite problem of a traffic jam. Southern California roads have two speeds: glacial and breakneck. For most of the day, cars travel with a little more pep than continental drift. During these moments, one might contemplate the sensibility of regressing to Flintstone’s foot power. It is not surprising that spinning wheel rims were first popularized in and around Los Angeles. At least the spinning hubcaps give the illusion your automobile is moving.
Late night southern Cal driving is another beast. Autobahn rivaling speed becomes the yang to the slow moving yin of the day. When the roads clear, many highways become raceways. The vehicles of visiting drivers turn into orange safety cones for locals to weave between on the straightaways.
In this condition I found myself and my less than speedy rental car; chugging along, late at night, in the center lane, like a pace car with no authority. It was at this moment I felt my cell phone vibrate for the first time.
Unfortunately, at the time, I was unaware that my new cell phone had the ability to vibrate. Consequently, what should have been a friendly signal that my wife was calling turned into an all out panic as my pants began to unexpectedly vibrate.
My first thought was not telecommunications. Rather, I was sure some sort of large, rental car hitchhiking spider was crawling up my pant leg straight toward my nether regions. In reflex fashion I began to swat my leg to kill the vibrating beast. The second vibration only confirmed that I had angered my unexpected passenger. As I concentrated on the danger within the car, I temporarily lost touch with the peril outside the vehicle. I could vaguely hear swerving and honking but this did little to dissuade me from my frantic attempt to crush my yet to be identified cell phone.
On the third vibrating ring, clarity got the best of me. I paused briefly enough to reach into the front pocket of my blue jeans. Instead of a long legged, furry critter, I found technology. Securely within my grasp, the cell phone vibrated one more time to confirm our truce.
Technology might save us, but it might also kill us. Every time I use my cell phone I’m reminded of this reality. For every benefit my phone brings, it also brings countless moral decisions. Do I give the day to my wife and children, or do I let the world interrupt our time together with just a few important calls? Do I commit my full attention to the friend across the table, or do I excuse myself because this cellular interruption “will only take a second?”
Technological advancements have a way of magnifying the human condition. If we are disconnected, technology presents new ways of demonstrating our disconnectedness. The power of technology is not just in knowing how to use it, but when to use it, and when to simply turn it off.