Textalyzer – Good, Bad, Stupid?

First, I am happy to be posting again after a prolonged absence.  No real excuse.  I would like to say I didn’t have time, but I could have always made time.  I would like to say I didn’t have anything interesting to write about, but that is ridiculous.  I would like to say I just didn’t feel motivated, and that would be closer to the truth.  But here I am again.

In yesterday’s New York Times, the following story appeared, and it resurfaced today in an email from the paper with the subject Personal Tech:  http://p.nytimes.com/email/re?location=4z5Q7LhI+KVBjmEgFdYACPLKh239P3pgjLgQE8v0H/BvOS1wY/cUjO19PWzxHyUEkIRZWAg+ppB7O/1sva1CQk9dx3ga6lR3H6OBN6E4UXpa8Rtl0mltcLJ6iXquO107QnOFMTCq2g94pH1c2KOfwtNLsqLJmm+z&campaign_id=17095&instance_id=75448&segment_id=88718&user_id=84e41ccecd81e6755a0988aad5cbaa10&regi_id=26286525.

I urge you to read it.

There were over 600 reader comments about this article, and from what I can tell all were supportive if not downright endorsements.  My own comment earned yet another NYT pick.  Here’s what I had to say:

I drive and text all the time – legally although touching one’s phone while driving is illegal in Washing State. I accomplish this with my Windows Phone (I am the 3%) and my car’s audio system. Should a text message arrive, my phone plays it through the audio system and allows me to reply by speaking the message, A lot of interaction with the messaging is possible, but you get the idea.

So if I were pulled over and asked to hand over my phone for a police office to see if I had been texting, there is a possibility that my phone would show I had. It would not, however, show I had done so with a Bluetooth connection and voice only interaction. Completely analogous to a hands free phone conversation, which also would show up as happening while driving.

So much for apps and assumptions.

I vaguely recall a police investigation about 15 or so years ago looking into some illegal downloads from the Internet; it may have been porn or music or who knows what.  The point is the police traced it to a smallish business location and then went in to bust the owner because they assumed he was doing the illegal downloading.  They were absolutely baffled to learn that there was only ONE public IP address for the business – the one everyone there used to browse, etc. – but LOTS of internal IP addresses.  Their golden case quickly turned to lead.

I happen to agree with not only so many of those who commented on the article that texting or other phone-related distractions are annoying at best and in most cases dangerous with far too many deadly endings.  But this technology, given to police, is guaranteed to produce unintended consequences. My own scenario from my comment is one, and another reader wondered how, during the time an officer responded to an accident, texts could and probably would be sent that couldn’t be determined to have been sent before or after what is then an inexact time of the accident itself.

There is another issue.  Veracity of any officer.  He or she could say a driver was stopped and then determined to have been texting.  But where is the check on the officer’s word to guarantee that harassment isn’t taking place?  Unlike a breath test, where the results are unambiguously preserved and can be supported by blood tests, not so much for texts.

Despite the ban on in any way physically interacting with your phone except by voice (at least in WA), on any given day of normal driving I probably see five or more people holding one to their ear or to their mouth, obviously speakerphone enabled.  I also see cars not moving when stopped for traffic and the cars ahead do.  I see people standing in the aisles at stores, texting or more insidiously gabbing, oblivious to the fact they are blocking others and intruding into everyone else’s personal space.  I see people walking downtown doing the same thing.

It would be nice to believe that legislation or technology would solve any of these problems, but neither will.  Good manners and common sense are several orders of magnitude less distributed than smartphones are.

But a good effort, like Textalayzer, is not good enough.

What is needed instead is a black box-like recorder in our automobiles that captures this information as it does on trains, airplanes, and other commercial vehicles.  We need every car equipped with Bluetooth interactivity to eliminate the need to hold one’s phone. We put seat belts in every car to prevent injury so why wouldn’t we do the same to prevent death or injury by text?

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