Ma’am, step out of the car and put down that… um.. Tele-Puter.

Ma’am, step out of the car and put down that… um.. Tele-Puter.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) came out with a shocker this week; urging a Cellphone Ban for Drivers. I support the NTSB’s cellphone ban for the following reason: anyone still using that word probably still calls a “car” a “horseless carriage”.

Beside the story in the New York times, there was a stock photo of a freaking Razor flip phone. It made me laugh.

As per usual, a Government Agency trying to protect its public actually just misses the point, in this case by a couple of generations. Here’s why

  1. The moniker “Cellphone” was actually based on analog cellular technology, where signals were splits into cells when a tower was overloaded or a signal was passed from one tower to another. With Voice requests. So last century. But the whole history is here.
  2. The rest of the world began with digital installations and so calls their devices mobile phones, or mobiles (said Mo-Biles). Early last decade.
  3. The “SmartPhone” ushered in the proliferation of data (texting, Social Media, Mobile Web, etc.). It was smart, and it drove the phone feature to the background. Mid Decade.
  4. The new name is still being fumbled with, just as Horseless carriage was eventually replaced with the automobile. As noted five  years ago by digital sooth-sayer Phil Leigh in an Inside Digital Media video  podcast, the device is more accurately labeled a “teleputer”.  George Gilder originated  the concept about twenty years ago when he envisioned a hand-held unit  providing convenient wireless access to a global computer network. It was  kind-of the evolutionary destination implied by a popular computer industry  slogan at the time, to wit, “the network is the computer.”

More significantly, (following P from Phil Leigh) iPhone users are progressively learning that computer applications are becoming  the unit’s raison d’etre.  In short, the phone’s digital capabilities such as photography, geo-location, audio & video playback, and  especially Internet access, are the defining characteristics. Applications like  Skype and FaceTime portend an era when cellular telephony per se, becomes irrelevant  to iPhone owners. Long way of getting to the point that, it’s not a phone anymore. And people use voice as a diminishing percentage of their device time.

And Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the N.T.S.B., an independent federal agency responsible for promoting traffic safety and investigating accidents, said the concern was heightened by increasingly powerful phones that people can use to e-mail, watch movies and play games. “Every year, new devices are being released,” she said. “People are tempted to update their Facebook page, they are tempted to tweet, as if sitting at a desk. But they are driving a car.”

Nine states now ban the use of hand-held phones, and 35 states ban texting by drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state traffic agencies. Many mobile phone companies dropped their opposition over the last decade to any restrictions on the use of phones in cars, and have in recent years joined calls to ban texting while driving. In a statement, CTIA, the cellular telephone industry trade group, said it deferred to states about whether to enforce such bans.  Which underscores the point that carriers care less and less about voice: it’s about the data stupid. Most of the money will be made off of the advertisements served to these devices– a subject that is near and dear to my heart.

A complete ban on phone use by drivers would have enormous impact on many car makers that are offering integrated hands-free, voice-activated systems that allow drivers to talk and do other tasks, like calling up their phone directory.  The Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group for the industry, said in a statement that it was reviewing the N.T.S.B. recommendations. But it also defended the integrated systems, saying they allow drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road while they remain connected.

No way we are going to get people to put away their devices, at dinner or on the road. Best we can hope for is to educate them on the dangers (socail or physical) to what feature is to be used when. “What we do know is that digital technology has created a connected culture in the United States and it’s forever changed our society:  consumers always expect to have access to technology; so managing technology is the solution,” the alliance said in a statement.

That, and updating the lingo so people know what the hell you are talking about…


I mentor two kids and several entrepreneurs. Similarities are coincidental.