About half a million people are injured each year from motor vehicle accidents involving a distracted driver. (This post isn’t actually about driving—we’re going to use driving as an analogy to understand something else.)
This article cites research to answer a bunch of FAQs about the dangers of talking on the phone while driving. One of these is:
Q: Is talking on the phone more distracting than talking to a passenger?
A: The cognitive workload for the driver is the same, according to Strayer. In his test, conversing with a passenger rated a 2.3 on the 1-to-5 scale; talking on a hand-held phone, a 2.4; and a hands-free phone, a 2.3. However, having another person in the car generally results in safer driving, because there’s often an extra set of eyes on the road. Also, passengers tend to stop talking when the demands of driving increase, Strayer says. “So passenger and cell conversations have different crash risks because the passenger helps out.”
There are a couple things going on here. One of them is that the passenger has more situational awareness: the phone-based conversational partner may not even know their counterpart is on the road, let alone any of the details. The passenger can observe not only the driver but also the state of the car and the surroundings. They may additionally be aware of the intended destination, and so on. The other main thing that’s going on is that the passenger is going the same place as the driver, in the same vehicle, so they have a natural built-in interest to help the drive go well. They have a shared intent, and aligned interests.
Now, if I’m on the phone with you while I’m driving, you (hopefully!) don’t want me to crash, but psychologically it’s very different from when you yourself are (a) at risk and (b) your hindbrain knows it.
So I think that there’s something important going on with both of these pieces: awareness and values.
If you get distracted while driving, you might get in an accident. If you get distracted while working, or otherwise pursuing some sort of goal, you might waste time and fail to achieve your aims. And as with driving, other people can totally be distracting.
Given that, what can we learn from the driving analogy, that might inform how and with whom we choose to relate?
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I'm Malcolm Ocean.
I'm developing scalable solutions to coordination between parts of people as well as between people. More about me.