N. Katherine Hayles in her article, Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes, talks about how we as a society should be more open and adapting to new technology in the classroom with the understanding that with new tech comes new ways of understanding. This is just pertaining to the classroom and as Spotify has recently introduced its creatively titled Car Thing, we set out to understand whether Hayles is wrong when it comes to music technology and perhaps there is a time and place to be receptive to new technology not being while we drive. With the end of the semester just around the corner, we’re all preparing and curating our best windows-down, 20-miles-over-the-speed-limit, summer driving playlists. Some studies show that 90% of people listen to music while driving, but can our favorite songs be a distraction on the road? Here are some questions to consider next time you’re driving & jamming out!

Photo: Daniel Jubb Description: Older car radio turned on while driving

Where are you looking?
It’s always important to keep your eyes on the road at all times, as evidenced by the many anti-texting while driving PSAs that have been around for over a decade. However, everyone knows that sometimes shuffle isn’t on your side, and even though you’re driving, you just have to change the song. Or, you might start to drive by a deafening construction site, and need to turn up the volume to drown out the jackhammer. In the brief, seemingly insignificant moments you look away to hit the next song button or twist the volume knob, the worst can happen. It takes as little as three seconds for people to become distracted while driving and get involved in an accident. So, even though you might have to sit through an overplayed, annoying song, it’s worth having the patience to stay focused on the road.

Photo: Daniel Jubb Description: Spotify logo

How loud is your music?
Sight isn’t the only sense that is essential while driving. Being able to hear what is happening on the road is a significant part of safe driving as well. Car horns help communication with other drivers as well as pedestrians, to warn them of impending accidents or other problems on the road. And of course, sirens alert you to the presence of emergency vehicles and let you know you need to pull over. But if your music is too loud, you may not be able to hear these signals right away, or at all, and wind up in a tough spot. One study found that when listening to music that’s over 95 decibels (about as loud as a lawnmower), reaction time can decrease by as much as 20%. The standard middle volume of a music player, like a phone is actually 94 decibels, and music in the car can reach up to 100 decibels, especially when you’re on the freeway. This is especially risky because it’s also the kind of road where people drive the fastest.

Photo: Daniel Jubb Description: Cardinal avenue right outside Saint Joseph’s University on a nice day.

Where’s your mind at?
Singing along to your music in the car can actually boost happiness, but you have to be careful! If you’re too busy performing for the other drivers on the road and trying to remember your next lyric, you can lose focus on the road. Singing while driving slows down your response time, which increases your likelihood of getting into a car accident. It’s important keep your mind focused on the task at hand, because over 3000 people were killed in distracted driving accidents in 2019.

So, are we saying to have a silent trip every time you drive? No we aren’t. However, considering these questions can help you consider best practices for listening to music while driving next time you get behind the wheel. It also shows us Hayles’ argument can only go so far as the classroom is concerned. You shouldn’t blindly just accept technology changing.

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