Change at the Grass Roots


It may seem like hyperbole to compare growing a lawn with smoking (not combining the two, as in smoking grass), but when weighing the environmental and health effects of both rather useless activities, they may not be all that dissimilar. A lawn is purely ornamental and serves no practical purpose when it is not used as pasture for grazing animals. Deer may come out of the woods to clip parts of a suburban lawn, but for the most part keeping a lawn within the height limits deemed proper by neighbors is left up to the homeowner. Anything higher than about six inches meets with disapproval from neighbors and, in the case of a homeowners association rules, may merit a written slap on the wrist.


There was a time not long ago when most people smoked, and smoked everywhere. Movies of contemporary stories from the 1940s and 1950s showed actors portraying their characters as human chimneys. Few people thought much of it up until 1964, when the Surgeon General issued a report on the dangers of smoking. Even then, it took another generation for the momentum of social disapproval of smoking to build to a tipping point, largely because of the obstructive practices of the tobacco industry. In the matter of lawn growing, the balance is now tipped in favor of the people who dump fertilizers and broad leaf herbicides on their lawns to achieve an ideal of carpeted green perfection, and then burn up fossil fuels in order to keep that exuberant growth clipped to a manicured standard.

20101020 Sheep shepherd at Vistonida lake Glikoneri Rhodope Prefecture Thrace Greece
Sheep, goats, and a shepherd near Lake Vistonida in Thrace, Greece. Photo by Ggia.

Grass, with buttercups. Photo by Steffen Flor.

Given the information available about the toxic effects of fertilizer and herbicide runoff, and the deleterious effects on the climate of continued burning of fossil fuels, it seems insane to idealize the perfect lawn and what it can take to achieve perfection. Yet as things stand now, the people with model lawns are the ones who look down on everyone else and appoint themselves as standard bearers. Perhaps if more people understood the destructive effects to their own health and to the environment of all their fussing over lawns, then the balance would start to tip the other way toward saner practices.

When homeowners apply fertilizers and herbicides to their lawns, there is no obvious puff of smoke to notify everyone else of the activity. It is not as obvious then as smoking, and therefore general social disapproval will take a long time to build, and may never build to a tipping point the way it did with smoking. Education will probably be the main factor in changing people’s behavior. There are state laws which require commercial herbicide or pesticide applicators to post signs on lawns they have treated. Those are the 4 inch cards on sticks stuck into lawns, and to the extent that most passersby and neighbors give them any attention, they can easily mistake them as advertisements for the lawn care company.

The opening scene of Blue Velvet, a darkly satirical 1986 film directed by David Lynch. Besides demanding large amounts of fertilizers and herbicides to look their best, lawns gulp huge amounts of water in order to stay green throughout the warmest months.

Most people are away at work when lawn care companies do their treatments, and so they aren’t around to catch a whiff of the cabbage smell of the typical broad leaf herbicide as it drifts around the neighborhood. And of course, the homeowner who does his or her own applications, usually on the weekends when neighbors are also home, does not bother with any formal notifications at all. A neighbor might ask such a homeowner “What’s that smell?” To which the enterprising amateur lawn care enthusiast might reply, without apparent knowledge of or concern about the collateral damage of his or her efforts, “That’s the smell of the green, green grass of home!”
— Izzy


They Went Thataway


Some people have an inordinately difficult time shutting off their smartphones and putting them away. Several entertainers have tried over the past few years to ban the use of phones for recording their concerts, to the point of enlisting the help of a company that makes locking pouches for smartphones. People check their phones into the locking pouches at the door and continue inside with their phones still with them, but unusable. To use their phones during the concert, they must return to the lobby to have the pouch unlocked, and then when they’re done using their phone they repeat the procedure of locking it in the pouch before going back into the theater.


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Ignoring each other, two women check their smartphones. Photo by Michael Coghlan from Adelaide, Australia.

It’s a shame adults have to be treated that way, like children who can’t be relied upon to control selfish behavior even for the few hours of attending a concert where they should recognize the rights of the entertainer giving a performance, as well as their fellow audience members. Experience has shown, however, that simple requests to put away phones are not effective, at least not for an oblivious, thoughtless few. Once those few flout the rules, others are emboldened to do the same. The result is a diminished experience of the concert for some attendees because they are forced to view it through a forest of smartphones held over the heads of others in front of them.

Besides public venues where obsessive use of smartphones can get in the way, there are semi-public areas like classrooms, and private areas such as home dining tables, where phone use diminishes experience. Since some people simply won’t heed the call to shut their phone off, perhaps the locking pouch will be the best answer in those private and semi-public settings as well. Imagine attending a family gathering this holiday season where the various family members actually get together with each other and catch up on news and views. For some families, staring into their respective phones is preferable to talking to each other, but in their cases the phones are not the problem, but a way of ignoring the problem.

壮大な景色でも、携帯電話依存症 (21406671339)
A woman in Japan checks her smartphone. Photo by francisco.castro.

People can use television in a similar way, though it’s more difficult because everyone can view what’s on television, thereby making cause for discussion. Some television viewers try to forestall discussion by turning the volume up to ear-splitting level, making conversation practically impossible. Even at that level of discouragement, television viewing at a family gathering doesn’t entirely isolate individuals to the extent of generalized smartphone use. Add an earpiece attached by a wire or wirelessly, and that person or persons might as well have not attended the gathering at all. Or the family dining table. Or the classroom.

Like the western TV shows and movies where a town institutes a rule that everyone coming into town must leave their guns at the sheriff’s office, conduct their business, and then retrieve their guns upon leaving town, perhaps in the near future it will become standard practice to insist smartphone users check their devices into locking pouches before interacting with others in planned settings like concerts, classrooms, and even family gatherings. When the itch strikes the afflicted smartphone user and he or she simply can’t resist any longer the urge to scratch, that person will have to exit to the lobby or to the outside of the building and, after unlocking their device from its pouch at the door, enjoy a few minutes of sweet relief away from others, like a smoker huddled in a designated area. Those locking pouches could offer the boost that’s needed to bump pervasive, impolite smartphone use into the same territory of social disapproval as smoking in a theater, a classroom, or at the dinner table.
― Techly


Nomophobic No More


Nomophobia is a term coined in 2010 by the United Kingdom Post Office, which commissioned research into the anxieties of mobile phone users. It stands for no-mobile-phone phobia, or the fear of not having access to a phone or phone service.

On February 3, 2017, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, responding in part to the antics of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, who streamed a post-game speech by his head coach, Mike Tomlin, on Facebook Live from his smartphone, vowed to “scramble” social media sites in the Saints’ locker room in the future. It was unclear what Payton meant exactly by “scramble,” but perhaps he was referring to using a filter on the locker room wi-fi service. Players could still access social media sites using the signal from their cellular service, however, making the overall effectiveness of Payton’s ban doubtful. A cell phone signal jammer would be an option if it were legal.

Payton’s proposed ban was his response to players’ increasing inattention as well, since they itched to check their phones for distractions instead of devoting their full attention to the business at hand in locker room meetings. These are men in their twenties and thirties, some of them making millions of dollars a year, and they cannot be relied upon to disregard their smartphones for more than forty minutes at a time while their head coach conducts a meeting. But then, considering the behavior some players exhibit during games, perhaps it should come as no surprise they are selfish and immature in other areas of their lives. We would more usefully order our priorities to not give the players and the game as much attention as we do.


Arrecife - Iglesia de San Ginés in 18 ies
No cell phones sign at a church in the Canary Islands.
The message in English reads “Sacred Place – Silence Please”.
Iglesia de San Ginés in Arrecife, Lanzarote, Canary Islands;
photo by Frank Vincentz.


Whether it is a compulsion or an addiction that many people have to constantly check their smartphone for text messages, emails, or social media posts, is something they need to examine for themselves. The rest of us just wish they would stop checking, checking, and checking again, because it is costing us time and frustration, and in some cases our lives. Besides the everyday annoyances caused by compulsive smartphone users disrupting the enjoyment of theater-goers and patrons at restaurants and shops, there is the now nearly constant problem of being held up at a traffic light by the driver in front being too engrossed in their smartphone to realize the light has turned green. Such drivers build up road rage in others, and that’s minor considering the dangers they pose once they get their car moving.

A majority of drivers sensibly acknowledge that texting and driving is dangerous and are in favor of state laws prohibiting it, yet many of them continue to do it. You can see these drivers everywhere on the roads, bobbing their heads up and down like mechanical dipping birds as they look up and down from the smartphone they hold down just out of view of others – as if they’re fooling anyone – to the road and back again. The danger comes not only while they are looking down, but also for the first few seconds after they look up, because in that time their minds are elsewhere.

The Green Eggs and Ham Cafe - panoramio
The Green Eggs and Ham Cafe at the Seuss Landing attraction
of the Universal Islands of Adventure theme park in
Orlando, Florida; photo by Panoramio user BihnX.
Since some people can’t seem to stop themselves from texting and driving, and since enforcement is lax, it appears the only thing that will get at least some of them to stop is the kind of social disapproval that has built up around smoking in public over the past twenty years. It’s incredible now to recall that up until twenty or thirty years ago smoking in most public places was not only acceptable, it was the norm. People smoked in theaters, restaurants, and on planes and trains. Like enjoying green eggs and ham, people had a cigarette pretty much anywhere they liked. Speaking of green eggs and ham, now there’s an excellent idea: shut off that phone, smart or otherwise, and enjoy an attentive meal with friends or family, put the phone to sleep in the glove compartment while you drive to the theater, and then leave it in the car when you go in to relax and enjoy the show. Your dinner companions, the drivers you share the road with, and your fellow patrons at the theater will appreciate it, and it won’t kill you.
― Techly