The other day while driving through our fair city of Mount Airy and stupidly thinking I could actually get across town in a timely manner, the inevitable obstacle predictably reared its ugly head once again.
Such obstacles take many forms — it can include the tourist with Ohio tags who doesn’t know where he’s going, so he suddenly stops dead in his tracks in front of the Andy Griffith Museum as drivers behind stomp on their brakes to avoid rear-ending him and unleashing a chain-reaction calamity.
Or maybe it’s that stoplight that takes so long to change you literally could read the first five chapters of “War and Peace” before it ever turns green.
This time, however, it was none of the above. A van sat in front of me as its driver presumably waited for four lanes of heavy traffic to clear on U.S. 601 so she could turn left. But when that rare magic moment (of an empty 601) finally came, what did the van do? It sat motionless, so I thought: has the driver passed out at the wheel or did her vehicle break down?
Again, none of the above. The reason for her lack of alertness/movement became clear as I observed the motorist holding up her smartphone in a flat position above the steering wheel, apparently trying to reduce the glare so she could read something on the screen.
And that is but one example of such distracted driving I’ve noticed with increasing frequency on our local highways and byways, which I fear will only get worse and perhaps result in loss of life.
Problems have become even more apparent with the recent craze surrounding the Pokemon Go game that people play with smartphones to locate “virtual creatures,” which has created an army of phone-wielding players comparable to the walking dead.
I know everyone has been hearing a lot lately about the opioid epidemic with prescription medication, but I would like to nominate something else for addiction status: society’s overuse of smartphones.
The classic definition of addiction, usually applied to abuse of alcohol or drugs, is being involved with something to such an extent that you can’t live without it and it therefore dominates your existence in negative ways.
When first hitting the marketplace, cell phones were seen as simply a way to communicate outside a home or office. Yet look what has happened since with the explosion of iPhones, Androids, etc. Cell phones somehow became smartphones, loaded down with cameras, apps and various other bells and whistles that encapsulate all corners of the Internet and nearly every facet of human life.
So when I see people constantly walking around glued to their smartphones and totally oblivious to everything going on around them, it makes me think a 12-step program is definitely in order.
And in looking into that possibility, my trusted research team — Curious George and Associates — uncovered some interesting findings.
There are actually websites that have been launched by organizations dedicated to helping people overcome smartphone addictions.
One source consulted suggests that this shares many similarities with gambling addiction.
These include being preoccupied with smartphone use, losing all sense of time while engaged in the practice, putting a job or relationship at risk due to smartphone use or having a strong need for the newest cell phone on the market.
Smartphone addiction can be accompanied by a laundry list of psychological and physical problems, such as sleep disturbances, depression and conditions such as “text neck” (caused by looking down at a cell phone or tablet for too long) and digital eye strain.
Not to mention being killed or injured in a car accident due to distracted driving.
I even ran across one item on a list of health threats related to too much cell phone use which some people might not be aware of: the fact preliminary studies have shown that it might lead to male infertility due to radiation from the devices decreasing sperm count, sperm motility and viability.
Despite such information being disseminated, I doubt it will have an effect on the smartphone phenomenon that seems to be growing by leaps and bounds and apps.
Even if it were scientifically proven that smartphone radiation will absolutely rot your brain and kill you, I’d bet people would go on using phones just like smokers keep puffing and drinkers guzzling long after their lungs and livers are ruined.
As I’ve said before, we live in an era of smartphones and stupid people.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.