This isn’t going to work

AT&T has a new film out about the stupidity, selfishness and yes, death, associated with texting while driving. It's directed by Werner Herzog and it's quite moving.

It's not going to work.

Hundreds of thousands of people are going to die or be maimed because it's physically impossible for us to deal with the cultural imperative to stay in touch on our phones–and drive at the same time.

The reason a movie isn't going to solve the problem is that it is competing against several cornerstones of our culture:

  • The culture of the car as a haven, a roving office, and a place where you do what you like
  • The culture of the Marlboro man, no speed limiters in cars, 'optional' speed limits on roads
  • The culture of connection and our fear of being left out
  • The culture of technology, and our bias to permit it first and ask questions later

If you get a marketing assignment where you're out to change even one of these deeply held beliefs, consider finding a new client. All four? There's no marketing lever long enough to do this work.

There's a technical solution, one that might work. The are two solutions I can think of actually, both cheap and fast and effective.

The first is to require the phone to automatically alert every person you're texting or emailing at the moment you use your phone while moving. As we've seen, knowingly interacting with someone who is driving is a crime in many locales, and yes, you should go to jail for it. We need to change the cultural imperative, and we can't do that with laws alone and we can't do that with movies. Technology, though, can fix what it broke.

The second solution is even simpler: when a phone is moving, don't permit it to accomplish certain tasks.

People won't die as a result.

It won't cost the companies a penny in profit.

And defenders of the status quo will scream about freedom and access and rights and how it used to be. They will worry about people on trains or passengers in carpools.

But you know what? It's better than being dead. Better than being the victim of the one out of three drivers I see who couldn't wait…

I have no illusions that we will find the will as a society to insist that a technology be used to alter our culture. But we could.