This Distracted Life

Every week, it seems, WestportNow features an automobile accident that came out of the blue. They happen in broad daylight, on beautiful, clear days.

Whenever I see a photo like the one on Easton Road last week, I think: cell phone. The driver had to have been talking — or worse, texting. How else could someone hit a telephone pole — or another car — in perfect weather?

Alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor has been thinking about this too. He writes:

The other day I sat at a light at the intersection of Green’s Farms Road and Compo. It was a beautiful fall day, with trees starting to turn — what we live for in Westport. I enjoyed the scenery.

The light turned, but the car in front didn’t move. I waited patiently. I saw the driver. Her head was tilted down. I assume she was occupied by her cellphone.

Texting is so much more interesting than paying attention to the road.

Texting is so much more interesting than paying attention to the road.

I waited 5 seconds before tapping my horn. She started up like an Indy 500 driver. There was no “I’m sorry” wave. I guess she had been transported to another place, thanks to her cell.

A few days before that, my wife and I were at a bakery on a weekday afternoon. A man in a business suit came in with a middle school-age girl.

I thought: How nice. A busy dad picked up his daughter at school; now they’ve got some quality time together.

They got food, sat down, and proceeded to take out their cellphones. They looked down as they ate, with no conversation between them.

Recently at Compo, I saw a timeless scene: kids hanging out on the cannons at dusk. But as I got closer, I realized 2 of them were staring down at their cells.

Kids using cellphones on the Compo cannons. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Kids using cellphones on the Compo cannons. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

I’m not a Luddite. I fully embrace the internet, and how we connect in ways unimaginable years ago.

But in the 1950s, television was seen as both a marvel and an innovation with downsides. My parents set clear rules about TV viewing in our home.

I would love to know what types of ground rules Westport parents set about cellphone access and use? Are they barred from dinner tables at home? At restaurants? What — if anything — are you trying to do to ensure that your kids are not only focused on what they’re doing, but that they know you’re focused on them?

Great questions, Fred! Let’s hear what “06880” readers have to say. Click “Comments” to share what happens in your house — the theory and the reality.

19 responses to “This Distracted Life

  1. Everyone has their own ideas about how to best raise their children and I only report on what we do: no cell phones or any electronic devices at the dinner table (or counter, as the case may be) and the TV almost always gets turned off during all meals – because we want to have a conversation with our kids during meals; it’s quite often the only opportunity during the day to talk as a family.

  2. You think cell phones are bad?! Now that the kids have BYOD (bring your own device) they are on their laptops – as required during class and tests. One of my children has mentioned to me a few times now that he is very upset, he studies for his quizzes and tests (which are administered on their computers) and all he sees is the kids around him looking up the answers on another website. Not only that, but computers can receive and send text messages as well as check Facebook and the like all while it appears the child is taking notes or working on an assignment. What was this town thinking? How are we preparing our children for the future if they no longer have to study for a test. Now we are raising kids who can’t communicate face to face and don’t have to learn how to study for a test. Technology is not always a good thing.

  3. I saw a violent one car accident in front of my house last year where the driver ran into a telephone pole doing 45 and he flipped his car. I asked the officer what had happened and he said, anytime you see a one car accident, it is from texting while driving.

    • Deb Rosenfeld

      A few weeks ago I saw a woman had slammed her SUV into a telephone pole on the Post Road right outside of the Trader Joe’s parking lot. Single car accident, as well. She was fine but the pole had to be shored up.

  4. I’m a former Westporter, but I’ll comment anyways as we’re all dealing with this very dangerous issue wherever we live. To Val’s excellent and disturbing comments about kids on facebook and cheating on tests, I used to hire young kids out of college in my office. I was at first, quite naive — while they were tapping vigorously away on their computers, I assumed they were accomplishing their work — NOT. They were on myspace which quickly graduated to facebook, also emailing and chatting with friends online, and they were waay behind in their work with no conscience about it, and I had to pick up the slack and eventually some got fired. They had no concept that they were doing anything wrong even when warned – -so ingrained in their psyche is this addictive technology. To the driving issue, I was on the interstate the other day, a car came speeding up behind me going about 80 mph, drifting from left lane to behind me in middle lane — frightening, and this young guy was texting!!! No awareness of speed or staying in his lane. It’s out of control and many but not all of our kids are getting lost in this mess as they aren’t developing proper awareness and social skills, empathy, etc. And worse, people are losing their lives. It’s no small issue.

  5. No kids in this household, but I can only imagine the challenges. I hope parents are encouraging their children to be safe drivers & pedestrians, because how many have we seen looking down at their devices while driving & crossing the street? It may contribute to noise pollution, but I always toot my horn – if anything, it makes the distracted person look up and become aware (maybe!)

  6. The Warnock / Silver Brook intersection with Easton Rd is the spot of many accidents in general. I live nearby and jog across Easton in both directions on my running route. The sight lines are terrible from both stop signs, causing cars to roll forward for a better view then try to beat cars flying up and down Easton who likely can’t see them. When I read three-car accident, at that spot, that’s what comes to mind for me.

  7. For those who didn’t see it, there was a wonderful piece recently in the NY Times, “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.” on this subject:

  8. additionally, many of these kids who spend too many hours texting make very little eye contact with others.

  9. Marcy Anson Fralick Staples Class of 1970

    I don’t live in Westport anymore, either, but I do have six grandgirls.

    My older daughter lives south of Memphis in Mississippi and doesn’t allow her girls to use cellphones except in an emergency. Her husband is a retired USAF Lt. Col. and she’s always been a stay-at-home military wife. She has strict parental controls on them. They have iPods for music, and laptops for school, which the school formats to be limited to school sanctioned assignments, classwork, quizzes and activity. There is no internet on their school laptops. If they want to be online with FB or other online sites, they use the old fashioned PC in the family room in plain sight of everyone. They eat as a family every night. They’re ages 15, 13, 11 and 9.

    My younger daughter in Florida has two girls ages 15 and 13 and they have unlimited use of cellphones, tablets, computers, what have you. Both she and her husband work full time, but different shifts, one daytime and one nightime, so there is always one parent at home. The girls have Twitter, FB, Instagram, and every other social media outlet there is. They do not have school issued laptops, but they can go online to Skype with a teacher at certain times, and they can access their assignments through the school’s online portal. They spend the majority of their free time online. Since both parents work, there’s no family dinner, it’s “fix what you want and clean up afterwards”.

    Two homes, two sisters, two completely different ideologies…it’ll be interesting to see where these girls are in ten years.

    If I had kids, I’d be somewhere in the middle, but with absolutely no electronic devices at the dinner table, in the car (as passenger, and certainly as driver), and I’d probably be checking up on their social media postings.

  10. If you stand at an intersection, the biggest offenders ‘aint the kids…..

  11. Gee, Marcy, hope the daughter you disapprove of doesn’t see you post; but…as you seem to have little in the way of filters, most interested in their sex lives — please share witht he group…..

  12. After their 18 year old daughter biking across the country was killed by a texting driver, her parents (and friends) started a campaign to end distracted driving and encourage mindful living. It is called TextLessLiveMore ( A PSA with AMC’s Breaking Bad actor Giancarlo Esposito can be found here:

  13. Joyce Barnhart

    Snarky comment, Stephanie.

  14. I feel social media is a serious hindering to human contact and interpersonal skills…person to person with eye contact is best…texting, instagram gram, etc…will reveal itself in years ahead as a serious detriment to the human condition and joy in life….

  15. Gee, Joyce, if your mother discussed your poor child rearing ability on a public forum, would you cringe? And, gee, is it not ironic that the mom — oops — baldly states that she raised one of her kids to be a lousy mother and is waiting for the grandkids to turn out poorly? Then she goes on to say how she would raise kids — after she had her shot. I just hate all this self righteous crap. And lack of self awareness is tedious.

    • Aside from, perhaps, the TMI aspect of revealing any personal family information, I’m not entirely sure what you are upset about. It isn’t clear that she prefers one daughter’s child rearing method versus the other’s but is merely commenting on the different ways (and different circumstances that might result in different ways) her grandchildren are being raised with a somewhat remarkable lack of judgemental language. As I read it, she is saying that if she currently had children, she wouldn’t do it the way either of her daughters are doing it (for unstated reasons) so I guess you would have to read that as disapproving of both daughters? I’d take the comment at face value – she’d do it differently.

      Seems that you’ve decided that one of the daughters is a lousy mother, not Marcy. Which one is it?

  16. An amazing example during a memorable moment at last night’s historic Cubs’ victory: