Another invasive species identified: The cellphone

Contributing WriterJune 3, 2013 

Day 14 and still going strong on my cellphone “cold turkey.”

I am taking it one day at a time just like I was told at the Cell-aholics Anonymous meeting. I have had only a couple of weak moments when I thought I’d pick it up again, but they passed. Actually, it hasn’t been as hard as I thought. I am on the road to recovery.

The cellphone is just sitting there and saying, “Come on, big boy, pick me up and let’s get back to partying again.”

Giving up the cellphone was initially difficult. The withdrawal messages swirled in my mind. “I need to call so and so” . . . “Who just texted me?” . . . “Oh, yeah, I need to find out if I need to get something from the store on my way home” . . . “Just had a funny idea and” . . . STOP! QUIT IT!

Once I got through those types of thoughts, I also had a revelation. I caught myself not thinking about the people who needed to get my last great idea. I saw the road, heard the radio and appreciated the beauty of the sound and the sun trying to push out through the clouds. I actually heard birds signing. Remember birds?

OK, it wasn’t always idyllic, but it seemed that a percentage of my brain was somehow released from the tyranny of the cellphone. Was it only 1 percent, or 50 percent?

The cellphone was like scotch broom. It was a foreign, invasive species that had taken hold and was propagating ideas surrounding its use. And just like a freshly abstaining alcoholic, I was even more aware of those around me. What is that sloping posture of the person at Starbucks leaning over his cell phone? Will this realign his spine in some ways over time?

The brain. What does it do to our brain?

“Did that guy see me? He just walked into the road, looking at his phone. Didn’t he know that I was traveling at 35 mph (OK, more like 40) and was in a metal vehicle that was a total mismatch for his body?”

Yes, I stopped. I didn’t hit him to teach him a lesson. I didn’t (but should have) lay on the horn. I really don’t think he saw me at all. He’s just lucky I wasn’t on a cellphone myself. Was he blind?

Yes. He was blind. Inattentional blindness is the concept when the brain only picks up so much of what is around us. There was an experiment at Western Washington University with a clown on a unicycle right in the middle of campus. A much higher percentage of those using cellphones didn’t see this brightly colored spectacle.

If you get selectively focused on your cellphone, then there is a distinct possibility that you may end up with a failure to notice things that move directly through your focus of attention. This clearly leads to the inattention that drivers have while on the phone.

Raise your hand if you have never talked on the cellphone while driving.

I’m not going to get didactic (just wanted to use that word; look it up) and turn this into a lecture, so stick with me. I’m not any happier than you are when someone starts getting pompous. And this attitude is not going to help my recovery. Plus, I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.

Remember that dinner party you had and Jimmy kept looking down at his lap and then, when a question was put to him, he looked up and said, “Sorry, what was that?” He had been on his phone, right in the middle of the festivities. I mean we were all there, and we are his friends and family, and even then he is ducking out to send or receive some other mental message.

I was at Jazzbones listening to Randy Hanson rip into some Jimi Hendrix and there were about five people bending over their cellphones. Gotta send a note so show someone that I’m at this show. Gotta send a pic to someone to show them what a cool time I’m having.

Another time I was at Jazz Alley in Seattle and hearing one of the most incredible pianists in the world. Not 15 feet from her was a young woman bent over her cellphone, oblivious to the music.

What I can say from this two-week, clean-and-cell-sober vantage is that there are times when the cellphone could have been useful, but the times are greatly outnumbered by the times that I am actually experiencing the world around me.

Am I able to cell use responsibly? Or if it is given a toehold, will it permeate and penetrate to the point where I don’t see cars coming, friends and loved ones laughing, or clowns on unicycles?

Scott Candoo, a Tacoma attorney, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on these pages. He and his wife, Susan, live in the North End. Email him at Scottc51@nventure.com.

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