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Staff Editorials

Put those damn phones down

Thanks to the Georgia legislature, we are all soon to be at liberty to listen to rock and roll, ride with the windows down and enjoy the sights from our cars on warm summer evenings. (Boy that is a compliment you never think of giving a government body).

But come July 1, we can all turn up that Skynyrd, crank up the Big K.R.I.T and listen without being disturbed while you cruise home from work. Or you may be the type to take that special someone on a moonlight drive and want to talk to them, as opposed to someone on a cell – “Oh, I just got to take this one.”

And you may be surprised what has changed in Pickens County since the last time you went for spin – one where you  checked out the scenery, rather than social media. 

What we’re talking about is the state’s Hands Free Georgia law going into effect at the end of this month requiring you “keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon that wheel” - [as Roadhouse Blues advises drivers].

When those powerful, stylish, gas-guzzling machines of the mid 1900s to the 1970s rolled out of a driveway, you didn’t call, didn’t sit with eyes glued to a little screen while the real world slid past. You cruised and you sure as heck didn’t spend the whole drive yakking on a little phone with your spouse about plans for the front yard.

Back when America was inhabited by real people, not a herd of social media sheep, winding out on the highway, you sat back and thought about life or at least what you were going to do when you got home. Reflective-time, as close as many of us get to being philosophical and something that can’t be done while fielding calls from customers, bosses or co-workers about a project that really can wait until you get to  work. 

Work is where work happens, cars are where driving happens.

The fact that the state had to pass a law that makes it’s illegal to fiddle around with some computer-toy-phone while driving shows how much we’ve all been sucked into the online world. It’s unbelieveable that our Georgia highway rules have to state that it is illegal to watch a video and drive a car at the same time.

“It’s become a habit we don’t think twice about since we have been talking on our phones while driving for more than three decades and it is going to take time for all of us to stop automatically reaching for the phone when it rings,” GOHS Communication Director Robert Hydrick said in a press release last week.  “If you want to talk on your phone or use GPS while driving, now is the time to implement those measures so hands-free will become the instinctive thing to do.”

Better yet, don’t implement those things. Don’t do anything to compel you to keep on squawking while driving. In fact, tell people you want to make it illegal to talk on a cell phone in a restaurant or while waiting in line at the grocery store.

We encourage all our readers to use that time in the car to take a break from the constant contact that cell phones force upon. Studies have shown that people develop automatic reactions when they hear that little ping indicating a new alert -- like Pavlov’s dogs starting to slobber at a sound. Give yourself a break; studies are also finding that more social media/digital communication may produce depression and anxiety.

While the state passed this law for sorely needed improvement with highway safety, we hope it has some beneficial social effects with people regaining a sense of reflectiveness and sanity that follows them, even when they aren’t behind the wheel.


The troubling rise in suicides

Anthony Bourdain got paid, very well, to travel the world eating unusual food. He re-defined the chef culture and was judged to be a very hip 61-year-old, amazingly fit from martial arts.

Kate Spade, 55, was described in her New York Times obituary as having an “accessory empire.” Empire is a strong word but even people who couldn’t recognize her handbags, might know her name as someone famous.

Both were rich. Bourdain’s mother said in his obituary, “Success beyond his wildest dreams. Money beyond his wildest dreams.”

Both had children: Bourdain’s was 11 years old; Spade’s was 13.

Yet, both hung themselves last week – ending lives that most would trade for in a split second. What dude wouldn’t want to be paid to eat and travel and how many girls dream of fashion jobs?

The tortured artist is a stereotype for a reason. As early as 1897, poet Edwin Arlington Robinson penned a verse about super-rich-man-about-town Richard Cory who “went home and put a bullet through his head.”

Not making People magazine, however, is the fact us commoners have been killing ourselves in growing numbers since the 2000s rolled in.

According to figures at both the CDC and World Health Organization websites, Americans have been killing themselves more and more often. Forty-five thousand Americans took their own lives in 2016. The suicide rate has increased more than 30 percent in half of the states since 1999.

While the United States is often found among the worst for social problem statistics, with suicide that is not the case. The countries where it is most common are generally the poorer countries. Sri Lanka and Guyana both top the list. The most common way to kill yourself worldwide is poisoning with agricultural pesticide if that gives some insight into the demographics.

In the United States men with guns are by far the most common scenario for self-inflicted deaths. Men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women here and guns account for about half of all suicides. Hanging and poison are the next two leading causes. 

Suicide has become the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to a New York Times article on the rising number. It included experts who expressed dismay that the rise has occurred despite years of research and preventative programs. 

The Centers for Disease Control reports that suicide is rarely caused by any one thing and many of the people who die by suicide are not known to have a mental problem at that time. Bourdain apparently shocked friends by killing himself, but Spade’s relatives said for years she had battled depression issues.

The CDC found causes of suicide are  linked to relationships 42 percent of the time; problematic substance abuse 28 percent; “general crisis” 29 percent; job/financial 16 percent and physical health 22 percent. But these often overlap and include a mixture plus other specific issues.

There is clearly something wrong in a world where killing one’s self is in the top 10 of ways to die. It’s hard to know what can be done to improve these statistics. On a larger scale, two areas of modern life need to improve their efforts: the church and psychiatric medicine. At the bottom of the issue is a spiritual problem. People are hopeless. Whether from internal factors or what they see around them, people feel alone and miserable. More emphasis on the community and specifically the church family is needed to address this rot in the modern psyche.

Secondly, as the results in the New York Times story indicated, the rise in suicides is despite the fact that more Americans than ever take antidepressants, with the 15 million Americans taking the drugs -- tripling the number of taking them on a regular prescription since 2000. Clearly the modern approach to mental health on a national scale is a failure. 

On a personal level, there are plenty of websites with tips for spotting symptoms in loved ones – generally beginning with talk of suicide – don’t ignore it if you hear someone speak of it. Googling suicide prevention returns a bountiful number of resources.


Save your mind, get outside and play

“Tell me about an invention you don’t like and why,” was the question recently posed to a second-grade class in Louisiana. 

“I would say that I don’t like the phone,” one student wrote. “I don’t like the phone because my parents are on their phone every day…I hate my mom’s phone and I wish she never had one.”

Ooof. If that doesn’t get parents’ attention, what will? A teacher recently posted this message on her Facebook page and it went viral. Why? Because this child’s honesty is like a punch in the gut for parents who know deep down it’s true – they’re addicted to smartphones as much (or more) than the kids they’re trying to tear away from tablets and video games.  

Phone and technology addiction is a problem most people are aware of, but the complications it causes go deeper than just physical time away from our kids (which is bad enough). Excessive technology use has a strong link to increased anxiety, a condition that’s ravaging the country. A New York Times article “Anxious Nation” offers troubling statistics: anxiety disorders now rival depression – and in some age brackets surpass it. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 38 percent of teenage girls and 26 percent of teenage boys have an anxiety disorder. A new study from the University of Illinois finds that addiction to, and not simply use of, mobile technology is linked to anxiety and depression in college-age students.

“People who self-described as having really addictive style behaviors toward the internet and cellphones scored much higher on depression and anxiety scales,” said psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, who conducted this study.

Charlie Hoehn was a workaholic who was constantly on his computer or phone, the latter of which he’d bring to bed to check work emails after midnight. He developed crippling anxiety and after trying a variety of strategies that failed, he stumbled on the book The Power of Play. It was his “a-ha” moment, and one we can all benefit from. Humans are suffering from what he calls “chronic-play depravation.” 

“The research is pretty clear,” said Hoehn, who has gone on to do a Ted Talk about his experience and has written the book Play It Away. “They have done experiments. They’ve deprived animals of play—they give them love, nurturing, food, shelter, all the things they need to survive— but they deprive them of play, the animal inevitably grows up to be socially and emotionally crippled.”

What do we do? Do we want our kids to remember mom or dad in that unflattering position hunched over our phones with blank zombie faces? Do we want to contribute to our kids (or us) developing mental health disorders? Let’s make memories instead. We just passed the unofficial beginning of summer - Memorial Day weekend and the last day of school - and have the promise of several months of warm weather ahead. This summer, let’s get outside and play with our kids, family and friends without – or with very limited – technology.  

Locally, we’ve got new bike trails in Talking Rock, a couple of hiking trails on Burnt Mountain, and the Dawson Wildlife Management area/Edge of the World rapids, Carter’s Lake and Amicalola Falls that are short drives away. You can even make smaller changes in your routine – instead of going to a restaurant take lunch to one of the many parks in town. Hoehn recalls the first time he chose play over screens and work. A friend asked him to grab coffee for a work meeting and he suggested a game of pitch instead. 

Humans aren’t wired to spend their lives indoors, sitting at screens under the eerie glow of fluorescent lights. Research shows that getting outside is crucial for our health. It’s been shown to fight anxiety and depression, lower stress and blood pressure, improve focus, fight fatigue, and improve short-term memory. Technology serves us positively in a lot of ways, but gone unchecked can become detrimental to health and relationships. This summer let’s get outside and play. Your kids (and you) will be much better off.


Don’t hate, navigate

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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Two weeks ago we reported GDOT’s plan to build two roundabouts on Highway 136 – one at the Hwy.136 Connector intersection and the other just a couple miles down the road at the Ellijay Rd./Hwy. 136 intersection. 

GDOT provided numbers that demonstrate roundabouts drastically improve safety by reducing the frequency and severity of crashes. 

“You can’t argue with worldwide statistics,” GDOT State Maintenance liaison Sam Wheeler told me.

Apparently that’s not correct, Mr. Wheeler, because plenty of people argue with the statistics, ignore them, or don’t realize they exist. We put the roundabout article on our website and posted it to social media, and I was surprised (and amused) by the  downright hostility people have for inanimate and seemingly benign roundabouts. Here are a few comments made on the Facebook post.  

“A Round-A-Bout so bad, bad, bad, anywhere. Dangerous.”

  “What a nightmare this is going to be! Not to mention the construction. This is not the answer.”

“Such bu%[email protected]

Uh???? Those are some strong opinions for a traffic solution that’s always seemed low key, low speed, and fun for its sheer novel factor. Feeling confused, I surveyed my brother-in-law’s business to see if the aggression extended beyond our Facebook post. Without needing time to think, every person but one said they “hate them” - not  just that they didn’t like them, they hated them. A Google search returned several articles titled similarly to a City Lab’s “Why Americans Hate Roundabouts,” which solidified my new suspicion the repugnance is widespread.  

John Metclaf, author of the City Lab article, writes, “As beacons of unfamiliarity, the roughly 3,700 circular traffic intersections in the U.S. are feared, avoided, and even loathed, often without good reason. It seems that every time traffic engineers propose to build a new one, there is protest and uproar.”

This holds true for the only roundabout in Pickens County at the intersection of Cove Road and Steve Tate Highway, as well as the one in Ellijay, which was hotly protested initially, but welcomed when residents realized how quickly traffic could move around downtown (barring heavy traffic times such as morning school traffic and the Apple Festival).

In a Priceonomics article “The Case for More Traffic Roundabouts,” the difficulty one American engineer had selling the U.S. on the concept is discussed. 

“We are trying to bring the British-style roundabout to the western hemisphere,” the U.S. engineer wrote in a 1984 letter to the  creator of the modern roundabout. “The fighting is tough, the slogging is slow, and the resistance is stiff.”

But the article goes on to cite more of those “worldwide statistics” that show how much safer roundabouts are than four-way intersections, reducing fatality/injury crashes by nearly 80 percent. They also reduce emissions and improve traffic flow and efficiency. 

Roundabouts have gained popularity in the states, but the U.S. is still squeamish when compared to other countries. According to analysis by geospatial designer Damien Saunder, there is one roundabout for every 1,118 intersections in the U.S. compared to one per 127 intersections in Great Britain and one per 45 in France. 

A traffic expert told Priceonomics “Americans in general dislike ambiguity in traffic; we like wide roads with clearly demarcated lanes. [Roundabouts] seem more dangerous because they demand more cognitive bandwidth, but we can only appreciate the safety statistics when we step back and think.”

Sounds right to me. From my limited survey people hate roundabouts because “they’re confusing and nobody knows how to use them.” Maybe they have visions of National Lampoon’s European Vacation where Clark Griswold and his family get stuck on one in London for hours? Good for us, American roundabouts are usually simpler than their multi-laned European counterparts and only have one rule - traffic getting into the circle yields to traffic already in the circle. 

Just because we’re not accustomed to roundabouts doesn’t mean they don’t work. It might take a few go rounds, but the benefits of this traffic solution far outweigh the learning curve.


To the PHS Class of 2018 and their parents

To the 272 students who will take their final walk in Dragon Stadium Saturday, here’s a heartfelt congratulations. The ceremony is an affirmation of 13 years of hard work. To your parents and other family members who’ve watched you grow over the years, good luck. Good luck because for you it’s a bittersweet day filled with a range of emotions.   These emotions will likely range from happiness and pride, to sadness and downright sorrow. 

The pride and happiness are self-explanatory. Those emotions come from being excited for all your child has accomplished and the wonderful person they’ve become as they grew from a tiny tot into young - very young - adults. The sorrow is a little different. For while the students are excited to graduate and move on to another phase of life, parents are desperately wishing they could keep one foot in the past while simultaneously being excited for their future. 

Your parents have long known this day would come. From the moment they brought you home from the hospital in a car seat that was way too big, they knew one day you would graduate from high school. It’s both a day of celebration and a stepping stone from one part of life into another, more independent one. Your parents know you growing up is inevitable but they’re going to miss the child that you were. 

Be kind to your parents, because, while they knew one day they would have to say goodbye to that little kid who waved with tiny hands from the school bus window, high school graduation day is the day it seems to really happen.  

It’s a hard day for parents. For on graduation day many parents are reminded of all the days that will never be again. The days of being able to scoop you up in their arms and throw you on their shoulders, pinching your cheeks, and reading to you in bed each night. You are trading footed pajamas for shirts from your designated college t-shirts, military uniforms, business suits or work boots. 

This Saturday as you stand with your parents in your cap and gown, your parents will beam with pride in you. But, inside, they will also wish they had one more day to do those easy little things with you that brought you both so much happiness. No more gifts of stuffed animals that brought such delight to both giver and receiver. No more watching you round the bases of the t-ball fields as a similarly-tiny tot tried to tag you out. No more dance recitals with pink, fluffy tutus and you watching the teacher, standing just out of sight of the audience, for guidance.  

Remember, your parents and family members see in your face now the face of a young man or woman on the cusp of independence, but what they really see in their minds is Pre-K graduation day and the face of that four-year-old parading down the church aisle with a tiny cap and gown. 

You are now a person who can find your own path and reach your own goals independent of your parents. 

Congratulations, graduates. Few other days of your lives will be as moving as this one. Remember the day well and give your parents some slack for all the tears.

And as you move forward in your lives, remember there are a thousand paths in front of you. Dare to be different. Recognize you have the power of choice at every moment available to you: choice in what you do for work, who your friends are, even what your attitude will be for the day. 

Be conscious, stay awake and live with your eyes wide open. Own your life and career. Choose your commitments wisely. Laugh every day and always keep love and compassion in your heart.