Yesterday, I was riding my bike nice and slow, fully helmeted, up an empty sidewalk near a middle school in Kennewick. I heard my cell phone ring so I pulled it out of my pocket, only to see that I just missed my wife’s call. At that very moment, I passed a group of children and their parents who were in the stands at a baseball or softball game. I barely saw them in my peripheral vision when I heard a chorus of probably 5 or 6 people chanting,”Texting while riding is dangerous!” At first, I wasn’t sure what they said, but when my mind processed everything I realized they were directing their energy toward me. What in Sam Hill? (you really should google that last one)
I wasn’t even sure what to think about this absurdity. If I had responded to their chant, my response would not have been kind. In fact, it would have been a short version of two basic facts: first, about half of premature deaths in the United States are preventable and are largely (pun intended) related to poor diet and exercise; and second, sports spectators tend to belong to that half of society. Thankfully, I kept on riding and had an enjoyable 40 minutes of cardiovascular exercise while I was riding off into the sunset. But it got me thinking, is this what our schools are teaching our children? That texting while walking, riding, and driving is a primary evil? Enough that these children (and adults?) would chant at a passing stranger? Would they have been moved to chant had I been eating a twinkie while riding? Or if I had been riding without a helmet?
I suppose that patrolling the effects of texting is the flavor of the month in the educational system and in state legislatures. After all, as I’ve discussed before, it’s easier to ban something like texting than it is to solve actual problems like reducing the ballooning obesity epidemic or addressing the fact that American students fall far behind other developed countries in math and problem-solving skills. So instead of focusing on the root of this problem, which is really a lack of focus and concentration, our society is focusing on an ancillary symptom: texting. There are currently laws banning texting while driving in 47 states, texting while walking in multiple cities, and texting while riding in at least one city. It’s not a surprise that even some restaurants have jumped on the ban-wagon, but I don’t think that is out of a purported concern for safety. However, none of these laws seem to be helping us to improve our ability to concentrate and make intelligent choices.
So here’s my confession. The idiocy of the chanting angered me, but it was true: if I text or talk on the cell phone while I’m riding it’s potentially dangerous… to myself. Texting or talking on the cell phone while driving is also potentially dangerous… to myself and others. But texting while riding is no more dangerous than riding my bike downhill at 35 mph (which I later happily did without a chorus of safety-mongers), or running a marathon in monsoon-like conditions, or Netflix binge watching, or a hundred other things we do on a regular basis. The fact is, to live is to face danger, and to thrive is to make intelligent choices about the dangers we face. I hope we all make intelligent choices about the danger we face, and I hope that the danger we face is of the non-sedentary kind. And if we’re lucky, we’ll shock people by our ability to intelligently face danger and survive.