Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dirty Litte Secret

So, I saw a BIZARRO video on Facebook tonight, but it inspired me to reflect on the topic of Texting while driving.

Back when I first started the job I'm at now, I was given a smart phone and expected to be "on call" pretty much all the time. That lasted for several years, but I think the first year was the most intense. I was hired to work as the swing shift supervisor and I worked from 3:30 PM to 12:00 AM. The emails and phone calls and AIMS started early in the day and there were many days when I was driving to work and the phone would ring, the AIM would go off and I would pull over. I had a number of conversations with people and I would let them know that I needed to get back on the road and they would marvel that I wasn't texting while driving or calling them while on the road.

I know the exact moment that I gave in to the pressure. The very first time I had to fly down to Headquarters. The flight was booked for me and I arrived and got my rental car. I had NO IDEA where I was but had directions from a fellow supervisor who lived in the area. I was driving along and my AIM kept going off while I was looking at my directions (saved on my sidekick). As I'm driving, I'm seeing AIMs that say, "Where are you? We have a meeting in 10 minutes." Now, they had booked my flight and had the itinerary. They lived in Sacramento and knew that it took at least 30 minutes to get from the airport to headquarters. They also knew that my flight didn't land until 11:00am and yet they planned a meeting for like 11:30am, not taking into account that I had to take a shuttle to get a rental car. I started AIMing with them while on a strange road in a strange city driving a strange car. What an idiot! By the grace of God or sheer dumb luck or SOMETHING, I wasn't hurt.

During the time I was there, all week, I rode in cars with people who texted while driving and talking to me and sometimes, there was even signing involved in the conversations. It seemed like it was a normal progression and they all seemed comfortable and GOOD at it...I was a little freaked (I NEVER texted while anyone was in the car with me), but I didn't say anything.

After that, it just felt like it was expected that I would respond immediately. I took my sidekick everywhere and always answered as quickly as possible. I actually got "pretty good" at doing it - meaning I don't think I killed anyone.  No one made me do it - there was just some implicit agreement that it was "the thing to do" to ensure that I was always in touch with my staff, my supervisors, the business, etc.

A couple of years ago (I don't know when exactly), the state of Washington (where I work) banned talking on cell phones without a hands-free device - it was a secondary offense, but it basically meant you can't text because you can't have your cell in your hands while driving. I found the provided earbud so that if I was on a call, I didn't have to hold my phone, but it pretty much ended texting in the car for me and I try to only talk on the phone briefly or if there is some kind of conference call. On conference calls, I dial and join before I start and mute myself. The beauty is that if it gets intense or something is happening in traffic, I just pull the earbud out and ignore the call.

I immediately felt such a sense of relief when I gave myself permission NOT TO text and talk on the phone in the car. I regained my peace and quiet in the car on the way home and that pressure of feeling like I am always "ON" had decreased dramatically. I tried texting a couple of times, briefly WAY after I stopped doing it - I'm sure I thought it was some kind of emergency - but I hadn't use the skill in so long, it was actually really difficult, so it made me even more nervous. Now, I just keep my phone in my purse and that way I'm not even tempted to use it. Sometimes, I have to make a call, but I use my earbuds and speed dial.  Otherwise, it stays all zipped up in my bag until I arrive at my destination.

As I see more and more conversation about texting and driving and  more tragic outcomes because we are all so distracted and deluded into thinking we CAN text and control a ton of moving metal at the same time, I am proud of myself. I'm glad I didn't just stop doing it because Oprah asked me to or because someone died in my sphere (although this is a good reason to stop). It is nice to know, for once, that common sense can really prevail. Now, I just hope it catches on.

So, there you go. My dirty little secret.

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