Thursday, August 28, 2014

Confessions of a Text Addict

Hi. My name is John and I text and drive.

I should say, I’m a recovering texter-while-driving. Now, before you start looking down at me, know this: I don’t text while I am driving anymore. I’ve been texter-while-driving free since 2008. You see, back in the 2000’s (by the way, I still don’t know what to call that first decade. Is it the 2000’s? Or the 2000 and oughts? Or just the oughts?)

Anyway . . .

You see, back in the early days of this century, when I first had a cell phone (we called them "blackberries" back then), I didn’t know any better. I’d occasionally text while I was driving and I often called someone while I was driving. Without a headset. I had a longer commute back then and, well, it just made sense, you see, to take care of some business calls, check in on staff or clients.

But then we learned some things about “distracted driving.” We learned that distracted driving isn't that good for us. We learned it just like we learned about 40 years ago or so that smoking, as it turns out, really isn’t that good for us either. So now we have laws that forbid texting while driving and require hands-free devices for making cell phone calls and the like. And it’s a good thing too. According to this scary government website “distracted driving” caused over 400,000 injuries and 3000 deaths in 2012.

So, there it is: I am a recovering texter-while-driving. And now? I never touch the stuff.

Hardly at all.

Well, there was this time the other day when I was approaching a stoplight. It was nothing really. I was the only car. Or no one was in front of me at least, and I just, I don’t know, instinctively reached for my phone in the passenger seat. It wasn’t really my fault. I just don’t know what came over me. It was like I wasn’t even in control. It was like someone else had inhabited my right arm. And I just reached over and picked up my phone as I came to a stop. You got a problem with that? I just wanted to be sure someone hadn’t texted me or FB-messaged me! I didn’t want them to wait on me. Really! That's it. Is that so bad? I know what you are thinking but really, it was nothing. Just a small glance. For real! I hardly looked at all, and I was barely moving!

I was sharing this recently with my sponsor. I’ll call her “Jane from North Carolina.” She is also in texter-while-driving recovery. She understands me and helps me get out of my “shaming place."

As we talked, I started thinking about this impulse to reach for my phone. Okay, its more than an impulse. I admit it. It’s an addiction.

Except, maybe, actually, it turns out it may not be an addiction, as such, but rather a human necessity.

According to Dr. Matthew Lieberman from UCLA, in his book Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, recent neuroscience research shows that not only are our brains designed to form social connections, but also the pain caused by social rejection activates the same region of the brain as actual physical pain. That’s right, social pain and physical pain, as far as the brain knows, are the same. I'm greatly simplifying in the interest of brevity, but that's the gist of it.

And get this: The research also shows that over-the-counter pain medication will reduce the pain of social rejection in just the same way as it will reduce the pain of, say, a sore shoulder or back. How about that! So if you are suffering from a broken heart, don't feel bad. Or I should say, it's normal to feel bad. It's like your heart is literally broke. And I mean literally-literally, not figurative-literally!

It turns out social connections are as essential for human survival as food and water. It's true!

Let's pause for a moment and consider what we have evolved into. In the animal kingdom, “red in tooth and claw,” we are only of modest height and weight. We are not that fast or strong. We don't have sharp claws or big teeth. We can’t fly. We can swim, sort of, but not faster than other creatures that like to eat us. Face it: On our own we’re doomed. But we’re not doomed thanks to one advantage: We have this big-ass brain. It lets us work on complex tasks and, more importantly, work on them together! Only in groups can we fend off saber-toothed tigers with pointed sticks and chase buffalo off cliffs. Alone? We wouldn’t have made it out of the savannah.

This need for social connection is hard-wired and I imagine, for some of us, the fear of being dis-connected gets activated, at some primal level, when we alone in a car. There must be some primitive need to frequently scan the horizon to be sure we are not alone; not separated from the tribe. Thus, when I am all-alone in my car, it is not only human for me to check my smart-phone to ensure I am still connected to my tribe. It’s a matter of survival!

It occurs to me the problem isn’t texting. Texting and all the other technologies that allow us to connect with each other are great. So what is the problem? The problem is DRIVING! We’ve created a society, and economic model to go with it, requiring a vast number of us to spend hours, each day, alone in our cars. I know, some of you may enjoy, even seek out, that precious alone time. And some of you are clever enough to develop a strategy on how to use that time for self-improvement through audio books or Great Courses or whatever. But lets be honest. Most of us, or maybe I should say, if you are like me, you’d rather be doing almost anything else than commuting.

So, everyone, I say: Put down that car and start texting! Driving? Now that's dangerous.


  1. love this -- it's been a long time since i checked in on your blog -- and this one was a pleasure. ty. i am so ready to put down my car. haha.

    1. Thanks for the comment, and glad you enjoyed it!

  2. This is awesome - and so me. I can't sit at a two minute stoplight without wondering what earth-shattering message someone has sent me (which usually ends up being a picture of my cat from one of my kids).

    1. Those cat pictures are pretty darn important! Thanks for the comment.

  3. It’s great that you don’t text while driving. Those who still do, need specialized legal representation in managing their case. Some lawyers provide free case evaluation as first step in finding a right DUI lawyer for your specific legal needs. When I worked with Los Angeles DUI lawyer I saw him assisting people out of their DUI case several times.