Monique Keiran: Texting from the loo a hazardous endeavour

According to the most recent survey of cellphone use, these devices have now invaded every aspect of our lives.

Seventy-five per cent of the survey’s respondents admitted to using handheld devices to text, talk, surf, purchase items and conduct business while attending to other business with another handheld device in the washroom.

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I suppose announcing this information is in the public interest. We really don’t want to know, but now that we do, we can act to limit how these behaviours affect and infect us.

Say no to norovirus. Say no to phones in the WC.

In another survey, more than 800 of 6,000 working-age people admitted to having close calls and another 145 reported having had accidents while using cellphones when engaged in leisure activities.

Now, is using the loo leisure or business? Regardless, I don’t want to receive a “close call” — or tweet, or text — sent from a toilet. Ever.

I expect the most common accident would be dropping the device into the bathroom fixture you’ve told the toddler to never wash his face in.

That’s what happened to Nature Boy. I mean, he dropped his phone. He uses the sink to wash his face.

My reaction: “You dropped your phone where? What were you doing with your phone in there?”

“Umm, it was in my pocket. It fell out when I pulled my pants up.”

My response was non-verbal. Mostly.

“I’d already flushed, so it could’ve been worse,” he said.

The moral of this particular story is you don’t have to be driving a vehicle for your phone to get you into trouble.

Which leads us to a third related survey. In last year’s ICBC–Ipsos-Reid survey, many B.C. drivers admitted to still using handheld devices while driving, even though they know it’s dangerous and against the law. But they’ve become devious about it. Now, they keep their phones on their laps, out of sight of passersby.

Yes, folks, lap-phoning drivers now number among society’s sneakers. They’ve joined the ranks of peeping Toms, pedophiles, closet alcoholics, nerdy but sensitive guys who win the girls while the brawnmeisters are out flexing muscles with each other, and dieters who secretly raid refrigerators at midnight. Oh, and loo surfers, texters and tweeters. (Because, really, are you going to admit that you do your online business while you do your business?)

Could lap-phoning be why B.C.’s distracted-driving law hasn’t yielded the promised plummet in accident numbers? The law restricting use of handheld devices by drivers came into effect three years ago, but the province says it can’t prove the law has saved lives. Road fatalities and serious injuries are down on the coast compared to 2009, but are up or steady in the Interior.

The most disturbing of the surveys I bring to your attention takes us from road accidents to hospitals. Fifty-six per cent of operating-room technicians questioned at the SUNY Upstate Medical University in New York in 2010 said they talked on their phones while monitoring the machines that keep blood circulating during open-heart surgery. Another 50 per cent said they texted and 21 per cent said they checked their email during surgery. Three per cent admitted to checking social networking sites. Surely, monitoring equipment during operations requires as much focus and attention as driving a car.

That said, certain phone uses in operating rooms are appropriate. For instance, the devices can provide near-instant access to critical information during procedures. A nurse friend tells me health-care professionals now routinely use smartphones to check information about prescription drugs, patient history and other aspects of patient care. She says phones are displacing pagers as the workplace device of choice in clinics and hospitals. Certainly, visits to family doctors these days — if you’re lucky enough to have a family doctor — often end up being a Space Odyssey-like three-way consultation between patient, doctor and online device.

Despite Siri’s conversational abilities on the iPhone, we needn’t (yet) worry about smartphones developing the existential conflict of Arthur C. Clarke’s HAL 9000. However, we should be concerned about these devices being used for personal or less-than-emergency business during critical procedures of any kind: driving, operating heavy, dangerous or sensitive equipment, operating on people, pulling up one’s pants, flushing the toilet … .

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