Riding the Social Highway
As a motorcyclist there's only a few request I have for driver I share the road with and the top of my list is to not be on your phone while you're driving. The majority of motorcyclist have a close call story and most of the time it involves someone texting or looking at their maps and apps. But have you ever thought about the danger of the people that are not on their phones but still thinking about it?
We email. We Instagram. We Facebook. We Google. Whether we like it or not one third of us are slaves to our smart phones and the apps that clutter them. They control everything from how we purchase items to how we find companionship. And while social media has surely changed history, it has also changed the way our brains function as well.
As motorcyclist we pride ourselves on freedom and breaking away from confinement but if we are addicted to our digital devices when we're off our bikes, are we still thinking about them while we are riding? There are quite a few studies that suggest we are never fully disconnected.
To understand why this applies to us riders lets breakdown the effects social media has on our brains.
Social media has directly contributed to the rise of "Internet addiction disorder (IAD)". While social media addiction is obviously different from drug or alcohol addiction, a 2012 study found that our brain treats the two quite similarly. We basically go through withdrawals similar to smokers or drug addicts when we are forced to unplug for 24 hours and this can cause tremors, shivers, nausea, depression and anxiety in some addicts. On long rides we can go hours at a time without being on our phones. We are forced to be disconnected which can be an issue if you are addicted to your phone.
But addiction is not the only brain change believed to be brought about by social media's popularity; it's also re-routed our ability to multitask. Scientists at Stanford University found that individuals who spend a significant time online using social media were "more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli" and less able to complete more than one task simultaneously. When there are multiple pieces of information coming from a multitude of sources, we then lose the ability to filter out that which is irrelevant to our current situation. That failure to filter means we are slowed down by irrelevant information or as I like to refer to it as "Social Media Alzheimer's."
If all of that wasn't enough, social media has also interfered with our nervous systems. Phantom vibration syndrome is a relatively new but completely legitimate psychological process where individuals constantly believe their phones are vibrating. Researchers believe it's caused by chronic phone exposure causing our nerves to interpret something as a simple itch as an incoming text message. Because of this there is evidence of disrupting pathways related to emotions, decision-making, and self control.
So what does this mean for us riders? If we are addicted to our phones, then we are never fully present. Aside from taking away from the original reason we decided to ride in the first place, this can be a danger to us from a couple different standpoints.
In order to ride a motorcycle, we need to be 100% of the time we are on our bikes. It's when we become distracted that our risk factor goes up, increasing the chance of bing involved in an accident. If we are thinking about social media or our phones, then we are not using our full brain capacity and therefore not truly present in the moment. If our ability to multi-task and make decisions is hindered and at the same time we're going through some type of withdrawals while riding, then we are more more susceptible to danger on the road.
However, if we are one of the lucky ones who aren't a slave to our phones, the people we share the road with may be and therefore a danger regardless of whether or not they are texting and driving. We already have a hard enough time getting drivers to notice us on the road and now we have the constantly distracted and never fully aware IAD to worry about.
Its not all bad though. Social media can be directly linked to the rise in the last few years' motorcycle purchases and the increase of younger and more women riders. It certainly has inspired more people to start riding or to think about riding. It's changed the perception the general public has on bikers and has been a helpful tool in raising awareness to issues that greatly effect our safety as motorcyclists. It's also how I make a living and like so many people it's not just a hobby but a lifestyle and a full-time career. Like most great things there's a catch 22 and social media is no exception.
So how do we balance the addiction and necessity? I say by taking longer rides and more often. The more time you spend away from your phone to reconnect to the world around you then the less withdrawals you will experience and more aware you'll be. Make sure you convey the right message when you are online and do it for yourself not for validation and last but most important, let your bike be your refuge not your followers. We may never be able to truly be free from our devices but we can figure out a better way to coexist with them because the open road isn't a status update, it's a way of life.