Yes, I'm talking about people who clog up sidewalks and subway platforms, distracted by cellphone conversations. They think they're walking along like the rest of us, but they can't keep a straight line, and they constantly stop short, surprised by either something their friend said over the phone or by things in their paths they didn't notice until the last second (panhandlers, baby carriages, speeding buses).
So I'm not surprised by the New York Times's "Driven to Distraction" series. From the opening installment:
In a survey of 1,506 people last year by Nationwide Mutual Insurance, 81 percent of cellphone owners acknowledged that they talk on phones while driving, and 98 percent considered themselves safe drivers. But 45 percent said they had been hit or nearly hit by a driver talking on a phone.
“When we ask people to identify the most dangerous distraction on the highway today, about half — correctly — identify cellphones,” said Bill Windsor, associate vice president for safety at Nationwide. “But they think others are dangerous, not themselves.”
The refusal of many people to accept that the human brain can be easily overloaded, often leading to tragedy, reminds me of this heartbreaking Washington Post story about children who died after their parents absent-mindedly left them alone in hot cars. In my mind, the most frightening person in the story was a Virginia prosecutor who charged one such parent with involuntary manslaughter:
Morrogh has two kids himself, ages 12 and 14. He was asked if he could imagine this ever having happened to him. The question seemed to take him aback. He went on to another subject, and then, 10 minutes later, made up his mind:
"I have to say no, it couldn't have happened to me. I am a watchful father."
In fact, the most "watchful" and responsible people are perfectly capable of making fatal mistakes when they try to do too much at once.