Wednesday, September 19, 2012

R m8y

You perhaps know that today is "International Talk Like a Pirate Day." But did you know that it's also "No Text on Board Pledge Day"? What, you didn't? Oh, that's because it's completely bogus. It appears to be some sort of AT&T promotion, capping off their "It Can Wait" campaign to discourage against texting while driving. You've probably encountered their PSAs on TV, radio, or the YouTube. They all play out pretty much the same way: some sad-looking individual eulogizes a loved one, who, it is then revealed, died because they were texting while driving. The stories are made all the more tragic--rather, embarrassing--by the fact that the dead guy's final words were invariably some totally inane message, maybe only partially keyed in in some depressing texting shorthand. Here's a particularly devastating TV ad:

Don't get me wrong, I'm totally against texting while driving. I mean, the risk simply isn't worth it. We're all gonna die some day, but, when I go, it'll be because I tried and failed to stop some world-destroying doomsday device. Okay, maybe not, but, for sure, I WON'T go out on some humiliating story about how the other driver lost his brain over a text that would have suggested he didn't have much of one in the first place.

This all reminds me of a different PSA that left quite an impression on me as a child. As far as I can remember, it was a warning against trying to beat the train across the tracks. Some Mexican driver, despite his young son's pleading from the backseat not to try it, insists that they can make it. Then, in the next shot, we see the scattered wreckage of their car littering the tracks, informing us that, in fact, they did not make it and should not have tried.

Hmm, thinking about it now, it seems unlikely that that's what the ad was really about. I mean, was this really such a common problem that the Ad Council needed to distribute a PSA about it, which, from what I recall, played ALL THE TIME during after-school television from about 4 to 7pm? Maybe, being a kid with a rather short attention span, I took entirely the wrong message from it. Maybe it was actually some anti-illegal immigration thing.

Anyway, the "It Can Wait" campaign has a clear enough message, but, in this case too, I question the necessity of such a media blitzkrieg, assaulting me with ads everywhere I go, even enlisting members of the US Women's Gymnastics Olympic team, American Idol contestants, and other minor celebrities to "take the pledge." It's pretty obviously a bad idea to text while driving, and if people are dying because of this, then I'd think the periodic news story about it happening would be enough to discourage it. At least, that's how fear and caution are typically sown in my circles; some (usually older) lady reports some horrible story that she heard on the news or, at the very least, somewhere, and then it spreads anecdotally, and everyone nods in unity at how we must be more careful. Whether or not that process is actually fruitful, I have to believe it's at least as effective and certainly far less expensive than a bunch of TV ads that people often tune out anyway.

As I see it, this is most likely just AT&T's attempt to buy some good publicity for itself as a socially responsible company, probably in response to some heat it was getting over this texting-while-driving problem that, fairly or not, the telecommunications industry may be seen as causing in the first place. Yes, it's all rather like those Philip Morris anti-smoking ads.

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