When our species begins to decline in numbers, I do not think it will be due to environmental degradation or war or bears.
Those issues are certainly things to stay up all night worrying about, perhaps in a fortified bunker in your basement. And if you think bears aren’t a concern, remember that they can outrun us, outclimb us and outswim us. And we’ve spent decades teaching them how to ride bikes. We’ve created a potential monster.
But the point is, rather than those big three causing humankind calamity, I believe the more destructive factor for our kind is most likely sitting in your pocket. Or by your computer. Or in your hand, maybe even as you drive down the road, possibly reading this very column as you do 80 on the interstate.
Yes, I am talking about the cell phone, which is poised to be the single greatest human eradicator since your choice of plagues.
And while texting (and posting to Facebook and downloading music and doing any other number of things on your phone) and driving is certainly a known hazard, I’m far more concerned about the silent killer in our midst — walking and phoning.
I had this epiphany recently when I was walking back to my office. I called my wife and was chatting with her on my stroll of a few blocks. As I approached an intersection, I obediently waited until the little white light blinked, indicating it was OK for me to cross the street.
My wife heard this on her end of the line: “So what did you want to do for dinner HEY HEY RED LIGHT WHAT ARE YOU DOING RED LIGHT STOP STOP!!!!”
She responded in a cool, calm manner that you would expect from someone who just thought she heard her husband get run over by a car.
Fortunately, I was not hit. I saw the car coming, as even though I was chatting, I was keeping my head on a swivel. The car never slowed and cruised through the intersection at about 40 mph. Had she hit me, she would have been in the wrong. But as the old saying goes, sometimes there’s who’s right and who’s left. I would not have been left.
When I reached the other side of the street, my heart was racing. My wife was still calling into the phone to figure out what had happened. An older gentleman was sitting on a brick wall near me, and as I neared him, he said in a growly voice, “She wasn’t gonna stop for you…” I responded, “I know!?!?!? Did you see here?” My conversation with the kindly gentleman was interrupted with a very loud and curt, “MICHAEL!!!!! WHAT!?!?! HAPPENED!?!?”
I explained to my wife that (a) I was almost run over and (b) I’d made a new friend.
The incident made me think. I often use my phone when I am walking, but I try to be very conscientious of myself and others. Sadly, this is not the norm. I am often walked into by people who are busy staring down, clicking away on their phones. Quite frankly, I’m amazed that about 10 percent of the population isn’t picked off each day by routine hazards that could have avoided by, you know, not staring down when you walk.
We have defied the odds for too long. It is only a matter of time until the law of averages catches up humanity, and we begin suffering at the hands of our own foolish self-involvement. It’s time we put the phones in our pockets when we walk. There will be plenty of time to get back on the phone when you get to to coffee shop, where you can make a phone call and then share intimate details about your relationship with the strangers sitting near you. For the ultimate survival of mankind, it’s time to pay attention when we’re on the move. And walks can actually be quite rewarding. Enjoy the sights and sounds around you. Take in the beauty of nature. Make eye contact with another human. These things can not only help us survive, it can help us thrive. And it can help you keep an eye out for bears.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., and now lives in Charleston. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.