Despite Warnings, Drivers Talk and Text (NYT)

The New York Times has an excellent article today about driving while talking or texting on a cell phone and how difficult it has been to legislate against it, even with overwhelming evidence of the dangers: Drivers Dismiss Risks of Multitasking on the Road.

They also have a little video game that lets you test your ability to control a car while texting. Good call by the NYT to make a game, given how few people will read a 5000-word newspaper article these days.

Jonathan Franzen doesn’t want to hear your cellphone conversation

Novelist Jonathan Franzen has a good essay in the current issue of Technology Review. It's a complaint about cellphones, though it meanders into personal memoir about 9/11 and his parents (kind of an odd article to see in Technology Review). It begins:

One of the great irritations of modern technology is that when some
new development has made my life palpably worse and is continuing to
find new and different ways to bedevil it, I'm still allowed to
complain for only a year or two before the peddlers of coolness start
telling me to get over it already Grampaw–this is just the way life is

I'm not opposed to technological developments. Digital voice mail
and caller ID, which together destroyed the tyranny of the ringing
telephone, seem to me two of the truly great inventions of the late
20th century. And how I love my BlackBerry, which lets me deal with
lengthy, unwelcome e-mails in a few breathless telegraphic lines for
which the recipient is nevertheless obliged to feel grateful, because I
did it with my thumbs. And my noise-canceling headphones, on which I
can blast frequency-shifted white noise ("pink noise") that drowns out
even the most determined woofing of a neighbor's television set: I love
them. And the whole wonderful world of DVD technology and
high-definition screens, which have already spared me from so many
sticky theater floors, so many rudely whispering cinema-goers, so many
open-mouthed crunchers of popcorn: yes.

Link: "I Just Called to Say I Love You": Cellphones, sentimentality, and the decline of public space (free registration required)

Also in this issue, and also a little unusual, is a book review by Emily Gould of Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody and a new collection of Walter Benjamin writings, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media. The gist of her article is: Shirky is a cheerleader, Walter Benjamin was a pessimist (and complicated). Link: "It's Not a Revolution if Nobody Loses": A new age of "technological reproducibility" is here. Ugh.

The picture at right is from a forthcoming Penguin Great Ideas edition of Benjamin's essay.

College Without Technology

Wyoming Catholic College limits students’ use of cell phones and computers, and the students seem to be doing just fine.  From the Casper Star-Tribune:

In an era when technology is king,
Wyoming Catholic College is positing an against-the-grain conviction:
that great advances in technological achievement, while widely
celebrated, might not in fact be good for people. And they might
actually get in the way of education.

Here, students are
encouraged, and in many ways required, to forgo the world of virtual
connectivity, and engage with the actual world — to go out into the
woods, the mountains and the horse stables and experience what college
officials refer to as "God’s first book."

Student Hannah Gaddis of Casper said the school’s
curriculum kept her so busy and engaged that she never had time to give
the school’s strict technology policy a second thought.

"You kind of realize how much you don’t need these things," she said.

Link: An Audacious Experiment.

I learned about this first from an NPR story (No Tech U) in which they interview a student who clearly gets that technology skills are not that big a deal and not hard to learn when you need them. 

Of course there are other aspects of this school that may not be everyone’s cup of tea — like the exclusively religious and "great (Western) books" curriculum and the apparent endorsement by Bill Bennett.  In America those don’t raise eyebrows (not that they should, necessarily) — but banning iPods sure does.

Cellphone use while pregnant linked to health problems in children

From The Independent:

Women who use mobile phones when pregnant are more likely to give
birth to children with behavioural problems, according to authoritative


giant study, which surveyed more than 13,000 children, found that using
the handsets just two or three times a day was enough to raise the risk
of their babies developing hyperactivity and difficulties with conduct,
emotions and relationships by the time they reached school age. And it
adds that the likelihood is even greater if the children themselves
used the phones before the age of seven.

The results of the
study, the first of its kind, have taken the top scientists who
conducted it by surprise. But they follow warnings against both
pregnant women and children using mobiles by the official Russian
radiation watchdog body, which believes that the peril they pose "is
not much lower than the risk to children’s health from tobacco or

The research – at the universities of California, Los
Angeles (UCLA) and Aarhus, Denmark – is to be published in the July
issue of the journal Epidemiology and will carry particular weight
because one of its authors has been sceptical that mobile phones pose a
risk to health.


The scientists say that the results were "unexpected",
and that they knew of no biological mechanisms that could cause them.
But when they tried to explain them by accounting for other possible
causes – such as smoking during pregnancy, family psychiatric history
or socio-economic status – they found that, far from disappearing, the
association with mobile phone use got even stronger.

They add
that there might be other possible explanations that they did not
examine – such as that mothers who used the phones frequently might pay
less attention to their children – and stress that the results "should
be interpreted with caution" and checked by further studies. But they
conclude that "if they are real they would have major public health

Link: Warning: Using a mobile phone while pregnant can seriously damage your baby,

via Textually.