Commentary: The Flip Side of Wandering

It Just Is
Photo by Randy Stern

If you wander, you will find…

Find what? Something shiny? Perhaps it is a reward or a treasure that is worth the trip? Maybe the quest was unfulfilled and the effort of the journey was one for naught?

We often have a destination in mind. There is something there we want to be a part of. Our own recreation is one thing, as we set off to a lakeshore, a beach, a far away destination to unwind and release.

Maybe we are trying to find something. It is the old hunter-gatherer behavior for thousands of years sustained our existence. Have we found it yet? What will we do when we find it – what ever "it" is?

Or, do we just wander – just to wander? It is a dangerous, but necessary concept of going somewhere where a destination is never known, but rather felt. "This is the place," we proclaim – but only to ourselves.

There is a psychology behind the latter notion. At least there are two strains of thought to understand semi-mindless meandering. One could be the real notion of wanderlust – a true want to see something with or without a singular vision. The randomness of wanderlust is both delicious and frightening – whetting the appetite for the unknown. Luckily, a lot of people return from these flights of fancy – a higher number than you think!

Then again, some of us may no longer feel at home where we call our place of residence. We may be finding something better elsewhere – a friend, a companion, a community. Thus, we wander to seek this connection that is lacking back home.

These thoughts on travel – mindless or not – bring back a reminder about how we do such a thing. Yet, we are also reminded by what we need to do while wandering, traveling, what ever you would like to call it.

Some of these are imposed by law, and rightfully so. For example, fastening your seat belts. Securing your children in their safety seats. You should not be texting while you are driving – or looking at some social media application. Parking in an emergency zone – to be exact, the shoulder of a highway – so you could respond to the drama you have been named in some social media application.

Is that how you travel? Having to respond to some bullshit on Facebook or via text with the potential of endangering other motorists in the process?

This is not just "distracted driving." This is a deeper psychological issue.

One term that has not been used in my research in the subject of distracted driving is "driver fitness." Being distracted by a mobile device is the end result, however what drives a motorists to even engage with the mobile device and its applications? What emotional state is that motorist to start the chain of distraction?

Think about some of the examples given earlier in this piece. The person on a quest to find something special would be doing so in a 3,000-pound-plus vehicle with the potential of being distracted by their quest causing an unsafe situation that would abruptly end that trip. With the person running away from a situation at home, the mind is already occupied with the drama and the circumstances to threaten vehicle safety if the mind loses concentration on the safe operation of a vehicle.

However, we may not be conscious of our own emotional state of being at all. Researchers put this under the heading of "cognitive distraction," the state of where people are not even aware they are distracted from the primary task at hand. That is a very dangerous state to be – unconsciously trying to multitask between driving and resolving your issues. Add a mobile device to the situation, and you could become a statistic.

Try 26% – the number of crashes in 2012 involving mobile device use in the USA according to the National Safety Council.

Our infatuation with mobile devices is not just putting us at risk behind the wheel. Pedestrians are also at risk. If you are the person walking from your parking space to meet your friends at dinner, is it necessary to tell them you are on your way while walking down the street? What if you forget to hit "send" when you are about to cross the street with a "Don't Walk" sign against you? That is another example of cognitive distraction that we see more often than we should. It is not only unsafe to be engrossed in your mobile device while walking – you could be robbed of it in certain places.

What does it take to change our behaviors regarding mobile devices and our wanderings? Safety is not just putting on a seatbelt every time you drive. It takes a concentrative head – a safe head, if you will – to be able to operate a motor vehicle properly. The key to driver fitness is to leave your emotional baggage outside of your vehicle. If you invite your insecure state of mind on your trip, I can assure you that you will not be able to get to your destination – intended or otherwise – in a safe manner.

Then again, do we really know if we are carrying our state of mind with us? Being cognizant of your state of mind before fastening your seatbelt will save many lives on the road – including yours.

As for your mobile devices, leave them in the cubby hole! Do not even look at it while you are stuck in traffic somewhere! You do not need to know what so-and-so is doing for dinner that night on Facebook! You do not need to answer that message on some hook-up app from someone you would rather not meet even in an open area – in broad daylight. And, yes, that text from your parents can wait – especially when the freeway is backed up at rush hour!

Just because your phone is tethered to the Bluetooth connection is not entirely fool proof when it comes to having a conversation while driving. Ask any public safety officer and they will tell you that the definition of cognitive distraction also includes talking on the phone while moving, since it could be (rather, is) as distracting as making a text while driving.

Despite all of this – go ahead and wander. Enjoy your meandering wherever it might take you – consciously or otherwise. But, for the sake of whomever you put your faith into, please be cognizant of how you go about your travels and make safety a high priority when doing so.

When I say "have a safe and sane (insert holiday here)," you now know the reason in doing so!

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