Thursday, September 18, 2008

Closing the Barn Door

The word is out on the cause of that railroad disaster in Southern California. Here is the Associated Press report as it appeared on the San Francisco Chronicle Web site:

Train operators in California are now banned from cell phone use while on duty, under a temporary order by state regulators.

The California Public Utilities Commission unanimously passed an emergency order Thursday to ban the use of cell phones and other personal electronic devices while operating a train. It comes less than a week after a Southern California commuter train ran head-on into a freight train, killing 25 people and injuring more than 130 others.

Federal authorities confirmed that the Metrolink train engineer was text-messaging on his cell phone while on duty. Authorities say he ran a red light and slammed into the freight train in Chatsworth on Friday.

Thursday's order temporarily prohibits the use of cell phones by railroad employees on the job until the PUC determines whether the ban should be permanently adopted.

As Voltaire said in his Dictionnaire Philosophique:

Common sense is not so common.

Ironically, that sentence may be found in his dictionary entry for "self-love;" and that may reveal a deeper truth: Nothing obliterates our capacity for common sense as much as our own narcissism. Whether we are speaking or texting, is there any piece of technology that better embodies the extent of our narcissism than the cell phone? We have progressed to a state in which we feel our very identity is at peril without the reassurance that someone somewhere wants to receive what we have to say or text, regardless of whether that someone responds with anything other than the complementary attitude, which is, "It is now my turn to speak or text, so that my own identity will be served." Do we really have to go to such extraordinary lengths to prevent supposedly skilled workers from doing stupid things, or we should own up to the premise that our very population of skilled workers is being deteriorated by our culture of narcissism? I might propose a twelve-step program for narcissism; but first I have to answer this call on my cell phone!

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