The Deadly Pandering

I get it. If we know texting and driving is bad, why do we do it?

While Richtel goes to great lengths breaking down the science behind distracted driving, I found Reggie’s story, and the impact of his car accident, a way more compelling argument against texting in the car.

I didn’t enjoy the book. Even though it was only published a few years ago, it felt dated. None of the information seemed new or exciting to me.

“The cocktail party effect shows the limitations of attention; he says, that you can’t pay attention to two conversations at once.” – pg.62

Most of the information wasn’t mind blowing or revolutionary, and some even sounded self-explanatory. Obviously, we can’t focus on multiple things at once. It doesn’t take an expert to figure that out.

The long lasting trauma faced by Jim Furfaro’s family is the most impactful part of the book to me. Two daughters forced to grow up without a father because of a careless lack of focus. That’s more persuasive than any scientific research could ever be.

When it comes to texting and driving, I don’t feel like logic is the best approach to prevent people from doing something they already know they shouldn’t. You don’t see MADD putting out PSAs on the newest research about drunk driving. They show you a crying little boy who just lost his dad to drunk driving on Christmas. Pathos works. If you want to change anyone’s opinion, I think you should appeal to their emotions first. Richtel fills so many pages with logical appeals and expert opinions that he misses the opportunity to focus on a really powerful story.

I like how Richtel goes into great detail about virtually every character in the book. Between Reggie’s struggle to uphold his Mormon values, Terryl’s rough home life, and Stephanie’s World of Warcraft addiction, Richtel paints clear pictures of his main characters. However, this level of detail isn’t necessary for peripheral characters.

“Dr. Gazzely himself might pass for a hipster musician. He wears a serpentine ring on his right index finger. His car is a BMW M3 convertible, the super-fast kind.” – pg.31

Why do we need to know this? If anything, this discredits Dr. Gazzaley as a dirty hipster who drives an expensive car.

I appreciate how Richtel incorporated medical information and science into chapters that furthered the narrative.

“Nationwide Insurance found that 73 per cent of people reported talking on a cell phone while driving, with teen drivers showing the highest use of any demographic. While Reggie came of age, teen media use soared, and multitasking with it.” – pg.86-87

I don’t like how Richtel took entire chapters to talk about research and science in the neuroscientist chapters.

It felt jarring. Just as I found myself invested in Reggie or Terryl’s stories, I was torn away from them, introduced to a new doctor, and bogged down with jargon.

On that note, Jargon. If the science chapters weren’t so under-explained, I probably would have appreciated them more.

“This kind of science has been termed ‘neuroeconomics,’ a subset of which is known as ‘delay discounting.’ It is a way of understanding decision making on various issues–say, when a person responds to a text–by using economic, or monetary measures and influences.” – pg.166

The book is one big persuasive argument. I don’t think Richtel tried to be objective, nor could he be with this topic. We know distracted driving causes accidents, and we know phones are distracting. Richtel had to frame the book as a nuanced PSA and he attempts to persuade people to stop using their phone while driving.

For a three-hundred-and-something page book, I expected more journalism. Even in the neuroscientist chapters, only a few quotes sprung out at me that weren’t just backing up scientific research.

“They were running up against the limits of their own brain. ‘Technology was outstripping cognitive capacity,’ Dr. Atchley explains.” – pg.100

The Deadly Wandering doesn’t necessarily teach journalists how to conduct research or interviews, but it does demonstrate how important storytelling is. While I didn’t like the chapters bogged down by science, I can appreciate how much detail Richtel goes into when describing virtually everything. A clear story adds a lot of credibility.

Overall, I don’t think the book affected me that much. I already knew texting and driving is awful, so the book feels like old news.

I also think the medium is wrong for the message. If Richtel wants people, and especially teens, to stop texting and driving, a novel probably wasn’t the best choice. I know 16-year-old me would never have picked this book off the shelf. If teens are spending more and more time on their phones, then Richtel should take advantage of that. He should distribute his information and research online in a more palatable way for younger people.

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