The red plastic helmet weighed heavy on my head as we zipped down 7th Street. I had just turned three years old when I was brought on my first bicycle ride across town to my grandmother’s house. Rolling my head over, I saw etchings of Charlie Brown on the cushion around me and caught the potent scent of chocolate cake from a nearby bakery. My grandmother’s red brick house had just come into view beyond my mom’s helmet. “How’s the baby doing?” my dad shouted out to my mom from his bike. “Good,” she responded mindlessly, staring at the black rectangle in her hands. Next thing I knew, my mother braked and I was face to face with cement, my entire body reeling from the jarring impact. My mom’s dark visage blocked my view of the double yellow lines in the asphalt as she lifted me up by the waist, pressing her lips to the top of my head to comfort me. On a summer day many years later, when my parents had finally stopped calling me “the baby,” we embarked on a road trip to Ohio. The back of the minivan was humid and soiled with mud from our labrador Buddy’s, feet. Settled in the backseat, I looked up from my summer math worksheet to see my dad quickly typing a text message into the phone mounted on the car window. The car braked suddenly, my body flying forward and smoke pluming into the air on all sides. The mysterious clouds drifted away to reveal that we were in the middle of an intersection. When we got out of the car, my father cleared up matters with the police officers and promptly approached me. Shoving the car keys into his pocket, he put his arms around me and kissed the top of my head. Luckily, we survived the crash without injury, giving me time at the conclusion of the road trip to re-watch Season 5 of The Office on my new iPad. “Are you in there?” my father called, strolling into my bedroom after returning from work. “I’m trying to relax, dad!” I responded without thinking. “Aww, you’re hurting my feelings,” he muttered half-jokingly, gently closing the door behind him. After five episodes of the sitcom, I walked downstairs, having forgotten the interaction with my father earlier. My mom stood at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at me with a frown. “Your father’s best friend just died,” she mumbled. “He really wanted to talk to you.” And just like that, I had chosen a device over my father’s well-being, just as he had done to me at the start of the road trip. When our attention is absorbed by electronic devices, we live our lives waiting on the next piece of information to light up our screens. Every time a notification arrives, dopamine is released, causing a deluge of false happiness. These sporadic releases just steal our ability to find happiness elsewhere — lessening our interest in relationships, personal development, and not only our safety but that of our loved ones. Putting phones away and replacing them with exercise and mindfulness can restore one’s neurotransmitters, helping him or her realize that happiness can be achieved without constant feedback from devices. Across the country, distraction with electronic devices is jeopardizing the safety of millions while also replacing meaningful interactions with their loved ones. Although true happiness may not be as cheap as that offered by a phone, with time, we can learn to live happily within reality.
Even before the age of smartphones, I had my first encounter with the dangers of distracted driving, falling out of a seat on my mother’s bike as she answered a text message. As I grew older, I noticed that this was not an isolated phenomenon. Phones not only led to more accidents for me and my family, but also nearly tore away our interpersonal relationships.