In My Own Words: Unexpected consequences


When my older brother and I were young, we used to fight when we sat in the back seat together. To make long car trips more pleasant, my parents decided that my brother would sit in front with my father while my mother and I were in the back seat. My mom sat behind Richard so she could see the road over his head and help with navigation. (People used to depend on maps to find their way in those days.) The solution worked and our travels were more pleasant for all four of us (although, after sitting in the back seat for all those years, I now prefer the front passenger seat).
Of course, nowadays that solution won’t work. After airbags were introduced, children under a certain height could no longer sit in the front seat because, if the air bag inflated, they would suffocate. Airbags are a wonderful thing, but this change in technology had an unexpected consequence. Babies, whose car seats or car cribs often used to be placed in the front passenger seat, are now relegated to the back seat. Every year since then, there have been horror stories about babies being forgotten in cars and dying from heat prostration. Critics rail against these parents, but that’s not entirely fair: all it takes is a moment of absent-mindedness for disaster to occur. This problem didn’t happen when children sat in the front seat because it was far more difficult to forget them. It’s much easier to forget a quiet or sleeping child who is below the sight line in the back seat.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we get rid of airbags or stop all technological advances. However, we should realize that there can be unpleasant consequences from these changes. The cell phone is one of the easiest and best examples. Cell phones can be wonderful: they allow us to easily keep in contact with each other. Running late? Make a quick call or send a text to let the person know. Forget something? Call and ask what else was on the grocery list. Have to change your plans? It only takes a moment to let the other person know. The cell phone is a quick and convenient way to prevent problems and mixups.
However, there is also a downside to cell phones. Want to go on vacation and get away from it all? That’s not always possible because many businesses require their vacationing employees to have their phones on and be available even when they are not working and out of town. A friend recently started a new job and one of the requirements was that her work e-mail be on her cell phone. That meant she’s supposed to check e-mail during the evening and on weekends. Please note, they weren’t asking that she be available if they need to call her about a problem (phone calls she answered at her previous job), but rather that she work (check her e-mail) during non-work hours.
Every change has good points and bad. That’s true of every new piece of technology. What matters is how we use the technology and how we think to solve our problems. It can be a simple solution, like the suggestion that parents put a stuffed animal in the front seat to remind them that their child is in the back seat or put their purse and/or briefcase in the back seat with their child. Having employers not contact their employees while they are on vacation is a far tougher problem to solve. However, since the world is rapidly changing, it’s up to us to make certain that these changes make our lives better, not worse.