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Worst of the Week: Focused on the task at hand

Hello! And welcome to our Friday column, Worst of the Week. There’s a lot of nutty stuff that goes on in this industry, so this column is a chance for us at to rant and rave about whatever rubs us the wrong way. We hope you enjoy it!

And without further ado:

Very few of us – and by us I mean humans – are advanced enough to handle more than one chore at any one time. Sure, some of us (you) are more advanced in that we (not me) can actually walk and chew gum at the same time. And I have even heard rumors that some of our species can even juggle while walking and chewing. But, for the vast majority of us we need all of our focusing abilities to not walk into a lamppost … in broad daylight.

This is not a bad thing, as I feel that our ability to actually accomplish a single task at a time is something that sets us apart from other species and has allowed us to somehow rise to our current position in the food chain. This falls in line with that old motto that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.

However, news this week that advances in the wireless communications space continue to trickle into the automotive universe has me fearing that we are indeed getting a bit too cocky in our multi-tasking abilities, with results that can only be good for people that like to watch other people get hurt.

This inter-universe canoodling is showing up with wireless broadband capabilities now being embedded into cars, cellular connections being used to power navigation systems and cars now reading our text messages. All of this is in addition to just the embedding of Bluetooth technology into automobiles that has allowed us to drive and talk at the same time, though not well. My observations while driving around my local locale is that people cannot simultaneously drive and talk. It’s an either/or proposition. Those that are talking on their phone while behind the wheel are obviously not driving.

I am not sure why we think we can handle this task when even the simpler task of walking and talking on a cellphone is so far outside of our grasp.

My thinking is that the people that actually develop these combinations are indeed more advanced than the majority of us and could in fact probably handle performing these tasks without bodily harm to themselves or others. Unfortunately, those of us not blessed with these advanced processors make up the majority of the population and are thus the majority of humanoids likely to attempt to perform these advanced tasks.

Of course, this line of thinking would probably have us still stuck in the Stone Age, where the most damage most of us could do to ourselves and each other would be, I guess, throwing a rock at each other. Maybe not the best use of our opposable thumbs, but then again it would probably have us running into walls less frequently.

Many in power will continue to claim that the real solution for this is more education, in that they think those of us less evolved creatures can be taught to multi-task, or at least know when we can or can’t perform more than one task at once. That may indeed be the solution. But, I also think this form of thinking comes from the same folks that either have a vested interest in the continuation of all forms of mobile communications, regardless of what else is going on, or have a view of people that I probably need to share.

I know some have rolled out solutions designed to discourage or prevent some of the population from trying to do too much while behind the wheel of a car, but let’s be honest, those efforts have been more window dressing than concerted efforts.

Should we go as far as the recommended banning of usage of all “portable electronic devices” while behind the wheel as put forth by the National Transportation Safety Board? Maybe. But, then again, what constitutes a “portable electronic device?” If that device is embedded into the car is it still portable? If I have an electric car should the whole car be banned? What if I really need to cook up a Pop Tart while driving?

Obviously this is a sticky situation that like most has no answer beyond the extremes. Either we allow everything or we allow nothing. There is really no way to effectively police the in-between.

Until then, make sure to keep your head up.

OK, enough of that.
Thanks for checking out this week’s Worst of the Week column. And now for some extras:

–Following up on last week’s news from Leap Wireless that it would begin offering a contact-free iPhone (and corresponding thoughtful analysis), Virgin Mobile USA raised the stakes this week by offering the same device at a higher price, but with a cheaper rate plan. Virgin Mobile USA is charging $150 more upfront for their iPhone models ($550/iPhone 4; $650/iPhone 4S) but $5 less for the all-unlimited-but-really-not-unlimited-data plan. At that sort of savings, it would only take 30 months to recoup that addition device price.

But, where the big savings comes in is that Virgin Mobile USA is also offering a $30 per month plan with not-really-unlimited data, unlimited messaging and 300 voice minutes. Now we’re talking. Who really talks more than 300 minutes per month on their phone anymore? Especially when you have unlimited messaging and sort-of-unlimited data. Throw in a Wi-Fi connection at home and maybe some free Wi-Fi out on the road, and all of your voice and data needs can be met. Plus, that’s a savings of $25 per month, which puts payback at just six months.

Is that enough to lure those contract-phobic iPhone customers? Who knows. But at least it will quiet the whining from those asking for just such an option. Who am I kidding. People will always find something to whine about. Cheese anyone?

–To all those handset makers that like to roll out numbers touting the millions of devices they have managed to sell, may I present proof of what is really important.

Just wait until they unveil the 4G version.

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