Why Texting and Talking on the Phone Remain Intrusive

on Mar 26, 2010

Texting and talking on the phone while driving / cycling / having dinner has become a nuisance to our safety and social manners. It’s clear to everyone by now how dangerous (and rude) this has become. But the problem is not going away and interestingly enough, pretty much everyone is guilty of it, regardless of their awareness. Which leads one to believe that there’s more behind this.

It comes down to the fact that we’re very social creatures and we seek connections with other people. Cells phones have enabled us remained connected to those we care for, thus giving us something so important from what is ingrained in us.

This strong force should be kept in mind when approaching policies to prevent texting or driving while talking. It is difficult to stop this behavior because of the incredible strong social force. Still, we can help people make better decisions when using this technology. Like to avoid talking on the phone when on local streets. Or to avoid getting into emotional conversations while on the go. Additionally, creative solutions are appearing for mobile devices to deal with texting and talking on the phone.

I do have one such idea: Consider an app phone combined with Google Voice (which can act as a digital personal secretary). Imagine setting your device to “car mode” (or have it automatically do this via a car dock  or by detecting speed via GPS) or “dinner with family mode”. The mode would trigger Google Voice to intercept your calls with a message to inform your caller that this is a bad time before patching her through. It could send automatic responses to text messages. It could set away messages to your IM services and even shut off notifications. The technology is at hand and there’s quite a lot of potential in it. I expect we’ll see this sort of stuff within a couple of years, if not sooner.

Over time, social etiquette with texting will improve as it has for phone calls. Still, we mustn’t forget that the reason these tools have become such a dominant part of our lives is that it enhances the very human act of being social.

The Case Against Anti-lock Brakes

on Jan 19, 2010

Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are touted as a safety feature on cars. They work to solve the problem where excessive braking force causes the friction between the brakes and the wheels from exceeding the friction between the wheels and the road (without ABS, the brakes lock the wheels in place so that the wheels slide on the ground which in turn prevents braking and turning – rather dangerous). ABS “prevents” this from happening by reducing braking force when it senses the brakes have locked.

However, ABS introduces its own set of dangers and other disadvantages. First, the function of ABS can be misinterpreted. Although ABS prevents the car from skidding when too much braking force is applied, it do not increase braking power. Braking power, ABS or not, is limited by the amount of grip between the tires and road. This fact is not clear to many drivers nor is it one stated by those touting ABS.

Second, a danger lies in risk compensation – where having ABS gives drivers a falsely sense of security, causing drivers to drive with less care. Drivers who don’t have ABS, on the contrary, may have a very real perception of how dangerous conditions can be; often from experiencing their brakes locking. The non-ABS driver prevents locking by carefully applying pressure to the brake pedal, which requires the driver to be well aware of the road conditions. This awareness, needed by non-ABS drivers to judge maximum braking force, is not needed by ABS drivers which causes them to be less respective of dangerous driving conditions. Remember: there is no difference in braking power between ABS and non-ABS cars. The very nature of ABS is that it allows for safety after the danger point (too much braking in dangerous conditions) has occurred while the nature of non-ABS requires preventing such a situation from occurring. We already know that we’re better off preventing problems than treating them after allowing them to occur.

Third, ABS adds complexity to the vehicle – something could break (there are redundency systems in place – even more complexity!) and it adds to the cost of the car. This makes little sense if the technology doesn’t realistically improve safety.

Unfortunately, drivers in the US no longer have a choice on ABS because it is a standard feature, by law, on all new cars. Still, I believe ABS can be a very useful technology if used mindfully and with a proper understanding of its limits along with regard for road conditions.

What do you think about ABS?