DISTRACTED? Attach things to your Head
Some laws seem incredibly stupid at first, but then prove themselves after they go into effect. So, when New York’s “no handheld phone use in car” law went into effect a few months ago, I, like many people, was initially wary. While this law deals with distracted driving, it in effect says, “now you have to use a headset with your cell phone.” I got the wrong message from this. Was there really something about my hand’s proximity to my head that was distracting? Was there something inherently calming about a wire strapped to the head? Did it act like an antenna?
My own experience with these headsets led me to believe that they were more, not less distracting than a handheld unit. The tangle of wires running from my ear, under my chin, over my visor, draped over the rearview mirror, down the dashboard, across the radio, around the gear shift, and into the emergency brake well where I usually put my cell phone was unbelievably distracting. I thought, “Well, I guess I won’t need a cell phone anymore”, because probably 99 percent of my “anytime” minutes are spent “any time” I’m in the car. Plus, there was no way I was going to drive around looking like an operator from Time-Life books (actually AOL Time Warner LIFE Books).
Initially I looked for ways to circumvent the law. Most of these ways involved rubbing the noses of law enforcement in the fact that I wasn’t, technically, using a handheld phone while driving. For instance I made a little clip that held my phone to my ear. I would drive around with my head cocked into the classic “I’m using my phone” position and hold it in place just for laughs. I would dare a cop to stop me, swagger up to my door and try writing me a ticket while I had this silly thing dangling from my ear. I made designs for other devices that would make similar protests–a coffee cup disguised as a cell phone, which when you flipped it open doubled as a yogurt spoon, and a simple poster of an undistracted driver pasted over my window. After driving back and forth in front of the local State Trooper post with a yogurt spoon attached to my face without being arrested, I began to think that maybe the police had better things to do.
Perhaps this law was truly meant to keep people more focused on their driving. I have observed many people using their headsets. Despite initial distraction, when they are actually donning their gear, they appear to be relaxed, stress free, and demonstrate a raptorlike attention to the road. Perhaps my own experience only indicated that I was unaccustomed to having things clipped to my ears. I quickly changed my tune. Now I’m a believer. I had been totally wrong. Clearly the distraction was not the phone call itself, but in fact the act of holding the phone.
I have accordingly channeled my behavior from rebellious protest to constructive compliance. Headsets DO keep people focused on driving. This is wonderful and opens up new untapped market opportunities. After all, if the headset can keep people from being distracted, why not use this simple fact to enable greater automobile productivity and use.
I’ve since invented several devices which allow people to do more things while driving than ever before, while at the same time keeping their minds on the road. First, is the drive-through headset. This headset allows the busy, but safety conscious driver to eat on the go, without looking at his food. I’ve nicknamed this the Whopper Champ because it has a platform which can hold a large fast food sandwich, fries (an onion ring attachment is optional), with a three foot straw for a large soft drink. The sandwich is fed to the driver at intervals (it works just like intermittent windshield wipers–simple proven technology), giving time to enjoy each bite, interspersed with french fries which get individually vacuumed from their packs and launched into the mouth along with aerosolized ketchup. Just clamp the Whopper Champ to your head and chow down. Don’t worry, though, none of this will interfere with a hands-free phone headset.
I’ve also developed the Coffee and Doughnut Focuser, so called because it lets a driver keep driving while it focuses on morning coffee and doughnuts. I had a few bugs in this one, at first. It turns out that coffee sucked through a straw is hotter than coffee sipped from a cup. I can’t explain this, but its true. Market testing also indicates that people prefer not to have coffee and doughnuts pre-mixed. This made one clever single-straw design wholly unacceptable. Different people also eat different numbers of doughnuts, so the current design features a spring-loaded doughnut hopper, which channels doughnuts one at a time into the driver’s consumption chamber, I mean mouth. As one is consumed another moves forward. The driver sets the pace and, yes, it also works with bagels. Warm (not hot) coffee is sucked from a sponge leading to a coffee cup. Capillary action keeps this sponge moist, fresh, and delicious.
Today’s automobiles are more connected to media than ever. A leading cause of driver distraction is simply changing radio stations. The headset I’ve developed to address this is the Multimedia Distraction Buster. One bite changes CD’s. Tune in the radio with the tongue. Air expelled forcefully from the nose alternately mutes and unmutes all audio to allow for hands free cell phone use. I’ve been using this one for two weeks now. Sneezes do cause minor problems, but, right now, I’m so undistracted I could practically watch a feature film and not miss my exit.
Of course, driving inherently carries with it tremendous distraction, even without any phone calls. One of these distractions is reading directions, and actually, even following directions. The clever headset I’ve made for these situations is the Distraction Distractor. Before a trip, driving instructions are fed into the Distraction Distractor and at every turn the driver is supposed to make, it flashes a red light drawing attention back to the road. Although this sounds like it might be a distraction itself, it usually only comes on once or twice during a trip. Other unacceptable and probably illegal distractions are beautiful scenery, accident scenes, attractive drivers and pedestrians. So, the Distractor monitors the movement of the head and eyes. When distraction is detected, it distracts a driver back into paying attention with sounds of police sirens, car crashes, and screaming. I call these “Rubbernecking corrections.” Strap this baby on and prepare to be riveted to the road. People love this one so much that very few prototypes have been returned.
My newest headset looks up driving directions on a PDA (it can feed them directly to the Distraction Distractor if desired). So long as a clear wireless Internet connection is available, it can find driving directions, addresses, and phone numbers. Good as today’s wireless service is, however, sometimes people get stuck deep in a valley with hardly so much as a gas station for 50 miles or more and they need to find directions to Starbucks. No problem. Simply clamp the Yellow Pages Crane to the head and get ready for a latte. When not in use as a phonebook winch and indexer, this handy unit will allow reading a novel while driving, in perfect safety, with no distractions whatever.
Another new headset, in experimental stages, is called the Babysitter. There’s nothing more distracting than a child, particularly an infant, sitting in a car seat in the back. Kids say all kinds of distracting things from back there, like “I want more Juice, Dada!,” “I wanta Get out!,” “I need a new dinosaur, now!,” “I took my diaper off,” and “Who’s this stranger back here?” Let’s face it, this could easily cause an accident if a driver bothered to deal with it. The Babysitter solves all that by constantly stimulating a cranky child with a selection of favorite toys, snacks, beverages, and soothings songs, all while perched on a driver’s head. If the troublesome child becomes too unruly, the Babysitter can optionally calm him or her with a patented Ritalin-derived vapor called Happy Gas.
I’ve come to look at this as an opportunity to do more things in the car, less distractedly. For myself, I know that pretty soon I’ll have so many headsets, that I won’t be distracted at all. It is clear to me that headsets are not just one solution, but the only solution. Who cares if I look like a Borg? Just add my distinctiveness to your own. The change in my own driving has been dramatic. I am so keyed in to my driving that I hardly pay any attention to my conversations any more. In fact, half the time I don’t even know who called. I just venture a tentative but highly undistracted “umm, what?” And I never call anyone anymore, because I’m too focused on driving. I’m going to change that, however, with my as yet unnamed “dial a cell-phone connected to a headset headset.” Also in the product development pipeline are the “Wave to a possible acquaintance headset” and a personal hygiene headset which could groom me as I drive. I may have become too undistracted, in fact. I keep thinking about a headset that let’s me take up smoking. And because I have developed so many headsets, I now seem to need a Headset Manager, which I think should also be a headset, called the Headset Headset, or maybe the Head Honcho.
I really want to thank New York State for making this article possible. After all, without this law I might have blown all my driving attention on holding my phone and wouldn’t have been able to write this article safely, using Head Pen and Head Paper, on my way to work.