Thursday, September 18, 2008


Today, the Los Angeles Times presented a number of news stories about the commuter train accident that took the lives of twenty-five people and the fact that the apparently negligent engineer used his cellular telephone to send personal text messages while at work, although investigators "did not say how many text messages Sanchez sent and received." Because there was another accident this year in which ubiquitous communication may have been a factor, Metrolink has moved to ban the use of wireless devices by train crews, as "Train's engineer received, sent text messages on duty, records show" and "Metrolink crash leads to ban on cellphone use by train crews" explain.

For other companies considering similar policies, it is possible that workers may rebel. Cellular technologies have extended the reach of work much farther into the time and space allotted for personal life, so it is not surprising that many use the devices to reclaim some of the domestic sphere from an effectively much longer workday.

And yet in the competing economies of attention and distraction that multiple screens and windows represent, it is understandable why employers are worried about time on task for jobs that require vigilance. There are relatively few of these jobs for which a lapse of surveiling vision can be a life-or-death matter: air traffic controller, internsive care nurse, etc. In those professions the public expects workers to be focused on their jobs. It is very different from the ridiculous legislation proposed to bar iPod use among urban pedestrians or other intrusive efforts to manage or visual or auditory culture. (See Siva Vaidhyanathan ridiculing the iPod pedestrian law in a radio interview here.)

From visiting the Metrolink website, I also learned that commuters can get service updates on Twitter.

Update: The New York Times has run a piece on such regulatory efforts in several fields called "As Text Messages Fly, Danger Lurks."

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