A third eye or a third ear

Many years ago Woody Allen made a comment about how American teenagers spend all their time with their headphones on, and their lives would be complete if they could grow a third ear to allow them to speak to their friends on the phone at the same time. This was back in the 1980s or 1990s and I can’t track down the quote easily. (I am reluctant to try too many searches involving “Woody Allen” and “teenagers”.)

Times have changed. Billions of hours that used to be spent talking on the phone are now spent looking at phones instead: texting, consuming social media, maybe even emailing (if you’re over 30). And now there’s Pokemon Go, another screen-based activity that is occupying tens of millions of eyes, even at times when those eyes should be concentrating on something else (like crossing the road safely, or driving a car).

It still annoys me when I see people talking on their phones while driving, but this is nothing compared to the rage I feel when I see people texting or updating their Facebook pages behind the wheel. I am a great believer in multi-tasking but you really cannot look at a screen and keep your eyes on the road at the same time. I don’t need to try it to prove that it can’t be done.

Since reading this excellent article by Gaby Hinsliff in 2014 (“Somehow drivers must learn to resist the smartphone itch”) I have often quoted the following words: “Texting while driving kills more American teenagers than drink-driving does.” This is unlikely to change in the near future. Contrary to Woody Allen’s view about headphone-wearing teenagers there’s not much need for a third ear any more. But how quickly could we, as a species, grow a third eye, to allow people to look at a screen and still be aware of all that’s going on around them? Not quickly enough. Even if future generations adapt in this way there is nobody alive right now who will be able to do it, and there are many people alive right now who will die before their time because of this.



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