The Loaded Gun

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The most amazing side-effect of Werner Herzog’s “From One Second to the Next” is that it puts a loaded gun in the hand of every viewer.

I was lying on my girlfriend’s bed, doing some writing when my best friend linked me to this documentary, which discusses in very real terms the dangers of texting while driving. As I watched the film unfold I began to think of every moment in recent memory when my focus while driving was on my cell phone – either texting or changing a song on Spotify – rather than on the road. Watching it, I began to consider myself lucky to have gotten this far in my life without incident. Not that I text while driving very often, but it only takes one time and a fraction of a second. It is a practice I will now stop all together.

But, it is so tempting to ignore these warnings. Anyone I would ever want to contact can be reached by my cell phone, at any time. The same goes for the phone you have in your own pocket. You know its ability to rob moments of their due attention, because we are consumed with connections within connections (it is an unspoken mantra of the modern world that we must not only experience, we must share the experience). We must document. We must give a play-by-play. Consider how arbitrary it is to text “I’m on my way.” Wouldn’t the recipient already know? Would it matter if they didn’t? This exact phrase was being texted as the person texting drove through a four-way stop sign and snatched a young boy, literally, from his sister’s hand as they crossed the street. That boy can no longer walk or breathe on his own.

I remember the last time I switched playlists on Spotify. Around 5PM on Friday. 14th Street. Traffic. People waiting to cross at almost every intersection. But, I really wanted to hear that song, not the song currently playing. It’s a big phone – much bigger than my last. I dropped it while searching for the right playlist. Out of sheer reaction, I watched it bounce off the emergency break, off the gear shift, and onto the floor mat of the passenger seat. I looked back at the road in time to a stop at the next red light. We reason with ourselves, “That won’t happen to me,” because we witness stories of tragedy through aesthetic distance. But, where would my car have been, and what would have been in its path, if I had looked up only one second later? It’s these moments of sheer luck and happenstance that allow us to reason that things “won’t happen” to us.

The film showcases several vignettes of unflinching honesty, of drivers not lucky enough to have looked up from their phones to find merely a stoplight. Each story relates the uninflected pain of the families who lost someone either to death or disablement, and the grief of those who caused it by not paying attention to the road. It shows bittersweet reconciliation. It shows lives changed for the worse. It shows the downside to the allure of our mobile devices’ ability to keep us connected. That the film was produced collectively by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint & T-Mobile, speaks volumes of the seriousness of the issue.

The choice we make to text, or to reply to an email, or to change songs while driving is summed up eloquently, and with great sorrow, by one of the film’s participants “…while I was driving I decided that texting and driving was more important to me than those two men were to their families.” This wasn’t his conscious thought, of course. He wasn’t texting out of maliciousness and intentional disregard. But looking back, this may as well have been his reasoning, because the outcome would have been the same. When driving, put down the phone and leave it be. Whatever it is, it can wait. To disregard this simple lesson is to point a loaded gun at those with which we share the road.

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