The dying art of conversation and greater dangers

Traffic hazard.

Traffic hazard.

 

A young teen stepped straight out in front of my car this morning. She was wearing headphones and oblivious to my car. She was also texting furiously on her iPhone. I think it’s safe to assume her heart and mind were in the parallel cyber world. Her body and my car, however, were both in the real world.

And we see similar road safety scenarios over and over again. Young people throwing caution to the wind as they gamely disregard all they ever learned about traffic in their bid to stay abreast of the comings and goings in their cyber circle. Wrapped up in their infinite information flows, they cruise around on scooters wearing the latest in Darth Vaderesque helmets while tell-tale earplug chords surreptitiously disappear from beneath what their parents believe to be protective headgear and into an inside pocket.

 

As a driver, I find it most disconcerting. As a mother, I find it terrifying as I hope and pray my daughter has more sense and a greater instinct for self-preservation in the face of danger; real or perceived. I can be as formidable as any truck on the highway when warranted.

Accidents will and do occur. But easily foreseen accidents, particularly ones as obvious and potentially devastating as a road accident due to mobile phone distraction, must be one of the saddest ways to lose a child. I would back any government or police force that cracked down hard on these young scooter offenders and drivers that get too close, but no law in the world can ever protect my child against absentmindedly stepping in front of a vehicle. They need to stay present and not in their heads to stay safe.

But staying present is not the forte of the young. And it could be argued that we, too, listened to music on the go. The first Sony Walkmans appeared back in 1979 and were the pride and joy of many a young wannabe music nerd. Me included. This current crop of teens, however, has taken the phenomenon of technology dependence to a whole new level. How often do we see a group of youths sitting amicably together while they all text at lightening speed to other people? Those of us who grew up without the convenience of mobile phones and café Wi-Fi (when post still meant mail and the cyber world belonged to the realms of science fiction) enjoyed a misspent youth putting the world to rights around a pub table where we unwittingly honed the art of conversation as we revealed our pleasures and preferences in words of more than one Like.

Drifting off into the cyber world to read an intangible post in a cloud by someone we’ve possibly never met, while ignoring the real life friends sitting at the same table, would not have been acceptable. Or would it? As it was never an option and therefore not a temptation, we’ll never know how previous generations would have handled cyber world/real world etiquette – we can only smugly speculate.

Now to be fair, I strongly believe that kids today are more schooled in delivering debates and presentations than we ever were and most of them seem comfortable enough to speak in public. But these are planned affairs. What about spontaneous observations and small talk? Some of the best nights of my youth were spent rolling with laughter amid the batter of zany friends. Where original wit and warped wisdom were to be found at the bottom of pint glasses rather than reproduced on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Honestly? I think the teens are missing out. But they would never believe that. Not yet. But hopefully one day they will know enough to strongly impress upon their own teens that navigating the real world requires a little concentration and respect for danger.

The young lady who stepped out in front of my car this morning was lucky. I had already anticipated that she may suddenly crossover so had time to brake when she made her move. She jumped back in shock and alarm. I hope she was frightened enough to keep her wits about her from now on.

I hope she tells her friends what happened. And how.

And I hope drivers will be vigilant around teenagers – this generation won’t be young forever, but the cyber world and headphones are here to stay.

Let’s keep everyone safe.

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