Don’t look now, because they’re not. You can ask them to look up anything on their smartphones, but they’ll never actually look up at you. In fact, the zombie apocalypse would be preferable to this because at least the zombies acknowledge your existence, whereas our current mindless hordes are off somewhere else entirely. Yet they might be “watching” their kids, or “driving” their cars, or “stitching up” your dad on the operating table…okay, the third one is an exaggeration, but considering how things are proceeding, it’s not too far-fetched. Eventually we will read the article about how the guy doing the very, very difficult job requiring all of his attention was too busy texting his buddy about “S’up.”

mom-ignoring-kids-on-waterfrontThey’re the iHoles — deadlier than Skynet and dumber than Dumb and Dumber.

I didn’t need to hear the story on NPR’s Morning Edition, as I have been seeing plenty of it in my daily life, but there it was, quantified: “For The Sake Of The Children, Put Down That Cellphone” aired on April 21, telling listeners something they already knew, but at least verified that this is a real thing.

See, there was a time not so long ago when parents had an excuse. We may not feel the excuse was entirely valid, but circumstances necessitated it. In order to keep a roof over everyone’s head, and to keep everyone fed, and to combat the high cost of everything and it’s nearest duplicate, both mom and dad had to work. That’s the way it was for generations of latchkey kids. For other kids, ones born into a bit more of a privileged life than their peers, parents often worked those extra hours to gain social and career fulfillment. This was particularly evident in the go-go Eighties.

There’s still some of that occurring. Plenty of parents are doing the telecommuting via cellphones and laptops, while also taking kids to the park, or to gymnastics practice, etc. and so forth. Cue up Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In The Cradle” for the soundtrack if you must. I still think that they are causing harm and an eventual rift between them and their children, or at least creating a neediness in those kids to gain acceptance while the adults pour all their attention into devices, but I understand the work-home schism a little bit.

What I don’t understand are the incessant texters who are, let’s be clear, just texting unimportant crap. They are nailing it on Candy Crush while their kids are trying, and failing, to show them the neat trick they just learned, or the drawing they just made, or, I don’t know, the fact they just blew off a finger after dropping a brick on a box of bang-caps. Not now, you bleeding, mutilated brat, I’m about to level up!

A young son needs attentionPutting aside the implications of creating a new loveless, emotionally disconnected generation of sociopaths — like, whatever — there are larger concerns about the way iHoles approach their lives. The law is trying to intervene. Many states are adopting “hands-free phones only” policies in states across the nation. Some have made cell technology, across the board, verboten. And texting, on its face, is utter lunacy behind the wheel, but instead of complying, many drivers have resorted to finding creative ways to get their telecom fix while doing 65 in a 45 MPH zone. In fact, cottage industries are popping up, devoted not to complying with no-cell-phone laws, but to evading them, and how to get out of various punishments if you’re cited for these infractions. If these were “dumb kids” who probably should know better, but haven’t lived enough to know they should know better, that would be one thing.

The truth is that a large percentage of distracted drivers are adults who, in survey after survey, have decried the rise of distracted driving incidents, have demanded others not do it for the safety and good of all, and are just so smart and clever that they are exempt from the rule. They’re just that good. Bravo, you iHole.

I wrote an article a few years ago for FLEETSolutions magazine on the subject of distracted driving, and a study popped out and stayed with me. “In the summer of 2006, the journal Human Factors published a research study comparing the driving capacities of two groups with impairments – drivers using cellphones and drunk drivers. The study was conducted by David Strayer, Frank Drews, and Dennis Crouch from the University of Utah,” I wrote at the time. “The drunken drivers were brought up to a blood-alcohol percentage of 0.08. The cellphone users, with both hand-held and hands-free models, were stone cold sober. The study concluded that the impairment results found with cellphone driving were significanly close to driving drunk.”

blog_kid-ignored-parent-cell-phoneProcess that. Look around as you are driving, seeing everyone with their hand to their ear and their other hand on the wheel, or their elbows steering while they tap away at their device, or are staring down at their laps like there’s something going on down there. Visualize that and then consider that, in controlled studies, the drivers around you might as well all be drunk. If that doesn’t get you a little paranoid, nothing will.

There’s a solution, and it is not abject Luddite-ism. Prioritize what you do. Set boundaries. Just as you wouldn’t let someone come up and grope you in public, maybe you should have that same social barrier in mind when you are spending time with your kids, when you’re behind the wheel, or when you’re doing the “life thing.” That’s when you take control of the situation and tell folks, “I’ll discuss that gonzo WTF episode of Game Of Thrones with you later because now is not an appropriate moment.”

It’s too late to say that smartphones and tech aren’t going to shape our future, but it is the individual’s responsibility to not be an iHole, but to be smarter than the phone. After all, the phone won’t pay the tickets, go to the hospital, or to the courthouse, or be dead at the end of that chapter, but you could…you iHole.