Own a cellphone, but don’t let that cellphone own you, was the message to Weber State University students and faculty members from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Matt Richtel.
“I’m going to start by telling you a dark story that has to do with texting and driving,” said Richtel as he recalled a story of a young man from Brigham City whose recklessness caused the death of two recognized scientists.
Distractingdriving.com, a website that provides tips on safe driving, mentions that during the day in America there are approximately 660,000 drivers who are using cell phones or handling electronic devices while driving. This number has not change much since 2010.
Richtel taught the audience in the Shepherd Union Wildcat Theater on Thursday the science behind why people should avoid texting and driving.
The College of Applied Science & Technology Speaker Series, the College of Arts & Humanities, the department of psychology and the Weber State Neuroscience Program were just a few of the departments sponsoring the presentation.
Luke Fernandez, WSU Program and Technology Development manager, said Weber State University was very fortunate to hear from Richtel.
“You guys know that texting and driving is dangerous … I’d rather tell you why your relationship with your device is so compelling, so formidable and possibly so addicting,” said Richtel.
Richtel mentioned that when people participate in activities like doing homework while driving, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain in charge of functions, is strongly affected. He compared the human prefrontal cortex with different animals to illustrate how different the human brain is from that of other species.
“This is the thing that allows you to make decisions. It lets you focus; it lets you direct your attention,” said Richtel. “It is responsible for art, architecture, literature, academia, everything we built.”
According to the National Safety Council website, one of the biggest myths is that the human brain can multitask. The truth is that driving and using a device at the same time are two “thinking” tasks that use many areas of the brain. When people chose to do two activities rather than processing both at the same time, the brain briskly switches between the two cognitive activities.
“When you are interacting with your device, whatever you are doing, you are getting a little dose of dopamine,” said Richtel.
Lori Maxwell, a WSU student, said that she didn’t know why she felt so inclined to use her phone whenever she felt bored.
“Learning that using my phone gives me a dose of dopamine makes me feel kind of bad,” said Maxwell.
Richtel said that his intention wasn’t to turn attendees against technology but rather to make them aware of the downside of it.
“Technology is great, but just as food does, it has a downside,” said Richtel.
Nicole Silva, WSU radiology major, said that she always knew that texting and driving was bad but she didn’t know the science behind it.
“It definitely affects the way I see my phone now,” Silva said.