Friday, August 7, 2009

Are laws contradictory to technology?

Gov. Pat Quinn signed a couple of bills into law on Thursday meant to crack down on people who are so absorbed about themselves that they can’t bear to be away from their cellular telephones, Blackberrys, or the Internet.

Basically put, police are now going to have the authority to issue a lot more tickets to people who insist on talking on their cellphones while driving through a construction zone, or insist on sending text messages or using their tiny devices to check the Internet while also driving a car.

NOW I’M NOT about to argue that those people who would be talking on the phone while they should be paying attention to the road to ensure they don’t hit a construction worker aren’t knuckleheads.

They are.

But should it really be a surprise that some people think it is their right to whip out that cellphone and talk to whomever they want whenever they want? Personally, I have a niece who once berated me for not answering my cellphone when she called me.

She is 6. But she and her brothers are growing up in a world where it seems alien to them not to be able to reach someone at the exact moment they want, regardless of where people are.

SO TO WHAT degree are these new laws that Quinn approved during ceremonies at Northeastern Illinois University contradictory to the public mood?

In fact, the whole point of modern technology often is to make people accessible anywhere, and to make it possible for them to set their own environments so they can ignore their surroundings.

It would seem that these new laws could be seen as the desperate attempt of old fogies to impose some old way of thinking of things on the modern life they want technology to create.

I’m not defending these people. Because at heart, I’m an old fart and I take some pride in it.

I THINK A significant problem in our society today is that we have too many people who are wrapped up in themselves to the point that they can’t break away from whatever kind of device they carry.

It is almost like they are not alive when they are not hooked in to their particular device. At the very least, the moment when they have to shut down is the end of the day for them, rather than the moment when real life can begin.

I think that is sad. But I’m sure they’re about to respond that I need to get real, and that it is no more difficult to talk on a cellphone while driving than it is to listen to the radio. Of course, it would have to be Sirius satellite radio, since only old farts listen to “terrestrial” radio broadcasts.

At least that’s what my brother (who has a subscription so he can listen to Howard Stern and to Steven Van Zandt’s “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” music program) tells me.

PERSONALLY, I WAS kind of shocked to learn of the General Assembly’s actions this spring that passed these two bills that Quinn signed into law. I would have thought it already would have been illegal in Illinois to do the things that the new laws say are now illegal.

Seriously, what kind of gibberish-inspired message is all that important that it must be sent from a moving vehicle?

And in the cases where there is a legitimate emergency, it really is all too easy to pull over to the side of the road.

I recently had such an incident where a telephone call I placed to a government official for an interview was returned while I was driving on an Interstate highway. I pulled over to the side of the road for about 10 minutes – which is what it took to conduct that particular interview.

I WASN’T FOOLISH enough to try to ask questions, take notes and drive an automobile simultaneously. I know I would have wound up becoming a three-graf news brief about an auto fatality on the Interstate had I tried.

So I can appreciate the modern-day convenience of a cellphone in that it allowed me to leave the “office” to take care of other business without missing calls.

But I have come to accept the fact that there is a whole new generation developing that isn’t the least bit like me – who only got around to starting to use a cellphone about two years ago and is writing this particular commentary on a laptop computer I have owned for nearly seven years. They are going to complain about Quinn’s actions today for some time.

While I appreciate how much writing and editing has been made easier by computers (my earliest published work was written on Smith/Corona, and occasionally I still dig out a typewriter to create a rough draft), I’m not addicted to these devices.

I CAN HONESTLY say that one of the high points of my day every day is the moment when I am finished using my laptop computer (to write, send and receive e-mail and access various sites on the Internet) and can shut it down.

Because that means my “life” for the day can finally begin.


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