Good parents and teachers make children learn common sense safety measures. When we’re young, we often hear phrases like “stop, drop and roll” or “look both ways before you cross the street.” My father had his own notorious favorite – “Get your shoes outta the middle of the floor! I almost tripped and broke my neck!” These command statements usually deal with motion and the ability to protect oneself.
In the aftermath of an artificially generated stampede or dominipede, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that society will witness the emergence of a new phrase.
“Think before you run.”
This straightforward instruction would apply to the prospect of receiving panic-laden information delivered via cell phones. It would also encompass any cellular directive instructing a person to physically engage in an act of movement (likely regarding a hoax evacuation order).
If you think about it, our lives are governed by signals. A yellow light at a busy intersection forces you to make a choice. Speed up or slow down. The opening bell on Wall Street sends traders into a flurry of activity. Watch the collective reaction of soccer fans when the referee blows the final whistle. These events are commonplace and people generally react accordingly. There’s virtually no expectation of bodily injury or loss of life.
Such is the case when large numbers of people simultaneously use their cell phones. Because of the routine frequency, there’s no expectation of these individual acts culminating in mass hysteria. There’s no precedent. We’ve seen it all before. Notions of fear and panic just aren’t part of the current equation. And there’s certainly no prognostication for a human stampede.
But widespread cell phone use has introduced broader implications for society at-large. It has added a new, previously unexplored variable into crowded situations. Eventually, this issue will have to be addressed. Human beings will be forced to alter their previously defined expectations. And it will also become necessary to reprogram our societal behavior.
Generally and historically speaking, there’s only one way to summon inertia for transformative change. Regrettably, large numbers of people usually have to unexpectedly die. There just hasn’t been that one defining moment… yet. A singular moment in time that galvanizes society to recalibrate, change its perception and move forward.
I’m viewing all of this over a long-term event horizon. It’s all part of the game. The game called life. And every so often, it becomes necessary to change the rules of the game. Cellular technology has permanently changed the rules of the game. That’s why the forest fire analogy is so appropriate. Fires have been around since the dawn of man. But in the 1940’s, things finally reached a tipping point. And with that tipping point, government made a collective decision to do something about it. It launched awareness campaigns.
Our modern day equivalent is the implementation of enhanced airline screening procedures in the wake of 9/11. The circumstance of multiple planes flying into buildings introduced a different set of variables and dictated a new approach. Government abandoned the outdated airline screening protocol. Similarly, rapid advances in communication and technology are literally beckoning for a new approach. We just haven’t reached that tipping point… yet.
The main difference between the fallout from 9/11 and a dominipede – it doesn’t necessitate spending trillions of dollars. Instead of money, it all hinges on awareness. This is a good thing because snippets of knowledge and wisdom are generally an inexpensive commodity.
But our federal government is unlikely to adopt a sweeping, new policy unless there’s a massive allocation of financial resources. Adding to the problem, unless politicians “have their feet held to the fire” or think they’ll be personally held accountable, our government isn’t inclined to undertake a major course of action. Now let’s factor in the current climate of partisan acrimony and congressional disfunction. And finally, making the matter even worse is the overriding catch-22. If you acknowledge a problem, you own it. And if it were to happen, guess who reaps the blame? Four big reasons why it’s so critical to defy the entrenched status quo.
So why can’t we make this major adjustment BEFORE an easily predictable tragedy takes place? Are our societal expectations so low that we simply cannot adapt and grasp the concept of prevention? I know what you’re thinking. But It’s all based on a hypothetical. The problem I have with that argument – when the outline and conceptual nature of the future tragedy reaches the threshold of being so blatantly obvious and inevitable, it becomes necessary to take action. If the prospect of a dominipede doesn’t evoke concern…
I’ll readily concede that I don’t have all the answers, but I will assure you of one thing: adherence to the current path is unsustainable. We’ll never have all the relevant information. The who, what, when, where and why will remain unavailable… until disaster strikes.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young summed it up best. Teach your children well.
“Pay attention.” “Keep your head up.” “Watch where you’re going.”
Society will have its new slogan, likely sooner rather than later.
“Think before you run.”
Why not make it sooner?