Title – A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention
Author – Matt Richtel
2014 – Nonfiction
Rating – 4/5
Source – TLC Book Tours
The Premise: In 2006, a young man named Reggie Shaw was driving to work early one morning when his vehicle crossed the center line and clipped another car. The other car, carrying two rocket scientists also on their way to work, was sent careening straight into the path of oncoming traffic and both scientists were killed. Investigators were ready to call it a tragic accident, but something didn’t sit well with one of the investigators, who believed Reggie had been texting and driving. In 2006, there were no precedents and very few driving laws that were relevant to the case. But through hard work and the use of science, it was eventually determined that texting and driving affected attention and focus, paving the way for new safety laws and regulations, alongside some astonishing science.
The Opening Line: “Are you comfortable, Reggie?”
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. My background is in psychology – I find how people think and act and are wired endlessly fascinating. A large portion of this book is about the psychology and science behind attention and focus, basically how well we pay attention to something and how easily we are distracted. In college, I remember writing a paper on a phenomenon called weapons focus. Essentially, if a crime, staged or real, involves a weapon of some kind, the majority of onlookers are drawn to that weapon, thereby taking away from their focus on the perpetrator. That becomes an issue when witnesses are asked to recall basic things like what the perp looked like or was wearing.
For technology, it’s much the same. The more focused we become on our various screens and the external, ever-changing stimulation around us, the less we focus on other things. For example, if I become really engrossed in a boss fight in a video game, my roommate might communicate an entire thought to me, but I don’t hear any of it. For Reggie Shaw, although he texted often and thought of it as second nature, the act of receiving and sending text messages caused a lack of attention to the primary task of driving, which resulted in the wreck and two deaths.
The book is a fascinating mashup of narrative nonfiction and science. There are parts that read almost like a literature review, citing studies and scientists and walking the reader through more detailed examinations of attention and distraction. Other parts relate to the event itself, and everything after – the investigation, hearings, and Reggie’s eventual fate. And some parts give backstory to the main players in the book, which is also really interesting. I really like backstory because a person’s past can have such a deep influence on the person they eventually become. So I loved learning about each person’s history and how that drove them to their current state.
My takeaway is that this book is really important. Luckily, many states have laws now that ban texting while driving, but many states still allow drivers to talk on their phones while operating a vehicle. Still, the technology is relatively new and while precedents are being set, the course is still rocky. Although most Americans acknowledge the danger, we do it anyway. Just yesterday I read about a school bus driver who was texting while driving. The bus collided with another school bus and three people were killed, two children and an aide. Later, the school bus driver also died from injuries sustained in the crash, so no criminal charges can be sought. Tragic.