Tag Archives: mobile phones

Yet another reason not to multi-task

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Readers of this blog will know that I have a real thing about mult-tasking, so I’m delighted to read this article on cell-phone accidents in the New Scientist, though not so happy about one of the recommendations. Road signage should be improved so the obstacles to phone users are more obvious ? How about advising phone users to get off their phone if they’re crossing the road?!

The questionnaire was posted to 15,000 Finns, and got just over 6,000 responses.  How effective is a self-reporting questionnaire on a topic like this?  You have to wonder how many people, Finnish or otherwise, are going to admit that they were texting while driving, or that they walked straight into the path of an oncoming cyclist because they forgot to look out for traffice while they were on the phone.

Cyclists have to live with the knowledge that drivers do things as idiotic as coming out of a junction while texting or dialling and looking down at the phone. It’s the fact that they were looking at their phone that means they didn’t realise how close they were to killing someone, so that’s already a whole group of people who the research won’t capture.  Likewise, if pedestrians had any idea what it would feel like if a cyclist + bike crashed into them,   they might consider that they had had a ‘near miss’ in research terms.  Cyclists know that a pedestrian with a phone is only a half functioning humanoid, and therefore has to be treated as if they are an accident already happening.   It would be instructive  to conduct a survey of cyclists on one day in London to ask how many near misses they had with someone lost in telephone-space.

Cyclists: beware multitaskers

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The driver who caused the death of one cyclist and injured another while she was distracted for – listen carefully – two seconds while throwing a spider out of a car window has been sentenced (full story from BBC here).  I keep banging on about multi-tasking, but here’s proof that you can’t do two things at once, and that there are occasions when mutli-tasking ceases to be a cute think-piece for a magazine article and becomes an insidious lie.

Insects in cars are an unpredictable hazard, but mobile phones, music, make-up and iPods aren’t, and the decision to use them while you’re driving is predicated on belief in ‘multi-tasking’ for which there is seemingly no evidence.  “Continuous partial attention,” the term coined by Linda Stone for what computer users do, might be a better way of looking at it.

And is music really distracting?   Yes, according to a BBC news item from 2004 reports (link via Music and Mind in Everyday Life, by Eric Clarke, Nicola Dibben & Stephanie Pitts).