Dangerously entranced in a digital era

phild2008@sbcglobal.netAugust 2, 2012 

I seldom think of San Luis Obispo County as a dangerous place, despite the occasional shooting. But a front-page story in the July 31 Tribune alerted me to a new, growing danger here and throughout America.

It said more and more people are being injured or killed while walking and simultaneously using their electronic gadgets. The number of emergency room patients treated for such injuries has quadrupled in the past seven years.

That news story ended by mentioning a 17-year-old San Luis Obispo boy who was killed in July 2010 by a train. I looked up that story. Oscar Gonzalez was hit while walking across the tracks near Cal Poly. Officers concluded he didn’t hear the train because he was wearing headphones.

Two friends walking near him did hear it. They yelled, but he didn’t hear them. Neither did he hear the train’s horn nor its rumbling locomotive, until too late.

The July 31 article also told of another young man who fell one night from the platform of a train station near Philadelphia. He had been engrossed in a cellphone conversation. He landed headfirst on the tracks but managed to climb to safety before a train came by.

Other people were reported injured while walking and texting, playing video games or doing the other things people do these days with pocket-sized electronic devices.

But I feel I’m personally immune to being dangerously entranced by today’s electronic trinkets. The two victims mentioned in the story were young. I’m old. I joined the digital era late and reluctantly. My middle initial is A. It could stand for analog.

My concessions to the digital era are a desktop computer, on which I email, browse and write, and a cellphone, which I use away from home and only occasionally.

The late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, was seen by many people as some kind of saint or prophet. I see him as a superb trinket salesman.

My personal pick in the saint-or-prophet category would more likely be Henry David Thoreau, whose essay on “Civil Disobedience” is said to have influenced Gandhi, Tolstoy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

His most famous book, “Walden; Or, Life in The Woods,” was written around 1850, about the same time a telegraph line was being planned from Texas to Maine. “But,” wrote Thoreau, “Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”

And, sadly, many people injured or killed these days while being distracted by electronic devices may have also had “nothing important to communicate.”

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than four decades; his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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