Sunday, January 9, 2011

Dialing up Delusions: Cell Phones/Smart Phones and Your Brain

Sporting bright red noses, big floppy shoes, wild hair, crazy hats, painted faces, and colorful clothes, performing silly antics with horns and puppies and cars and buckets, visited by one or three or 20 friends who bumble and fumble and tumble about, there is something about a clown that lightens my heart and brightens my day.  From Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns", Gary Lewis & the Playboy's "Everybody loves a Clown", and Smokey Robinson's "The Tears of a Clown" to Freddie the Freeloader, Clarabell, Bozo, Ronald McDonald, or Krusty the Clown most people have some distinctive visceral reaction to clowns.  For some people like me clowns may bring up joy that bubbles over the edges of otherwise ordinary days while there are some people who may have a marked and persistent fear of clowns.  Coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns, is one of the top ten specific phobias so it is difficult to imagine that with strong reactions clowns evoke such as joy or fear that anyone could miss a clown unicycling past them. . .

But miss them they did.  Less than 25% of college students using cell phones/smart phones at Western Washington University noticed a clown unicycling past them on campus.  Scientists interested in testing multi-tasking abilities sent researchers to observe students on campus and then interview them about what they remembered seeing on their walk to and from classes.  When asking students, "Did you notice anything unusual?" more than 70% of students listening to music saw the clown, but more than 75% of cell phone/smart phone users had no recall of the clown.  Really?  A person dressed in brightly colored clothes with a big red nose pedaling a unicycle was not an attention-getter?  The researchers found that not only were these phone users oblivious to their surroundings, but they maintained the delusion they were aware of everything around them.

This delusional thinking is no news to me.  I have all the evidence I need that some people are insane every time I load the babies into the van, back out of our driveway, and cautiously begin a trip to the market, post office, or our favorite pet store.  Who else but crazy people would be driving beside or toward me in a car with their very own children strapped snugly into carseats while blabbing away on their phone or 'just glancing at it' to see why it is ringing, who is texting, or what the map says will be their next turn?  It is crazy enough to engage in some selfish behavior that could potentially kill other people, but how could someone be anything but delusional when insisting his or her own family wear seat belts, sit in the back seat, not eat before swimming (although, by now I hope we all know that is a myth), not run with knives, not smoke. . .or sell crack, and not dart in front of large speeding trucks while maintaining a belief that he or she can safely drive, supervise children, operate heavy farm equipment, write the next great American novel and live while attached to a cell phone or a smart phone.  On September 12, 2008 MetroLink 111 collided head-on with a Union Pacific Freight Train.  25 people were killed, and 135 were injured when a veteran engineer missed a signal to pull onto the siding to allow the Union Pacific Train to pass.  He was text-messaging.  The engineer of MetroLink 111 showed the same "inattentional blindness" as the college students at Western Washington University.

Are these people victims of technology that is developed with an intention to reshape our very thinking, or is it simply that the people who 'need' cell phones and smart phones lean toward a personality structure that lends itself to addictive behaviors, crappy judgment, poor insight, and delusional thinking?  Whatever the answer, one thing is certain, clowns can be quite controversial. . .

No comments:

Post a Comment