If you're an American who watches TV news or browses the internet, you've probably come to the conclusion that we're all going to die from Ebola. But there are threats much more real than hemorrhagic fever, and they've been here for the while. In the US, you're more likely to die from texting than Ebola. By a long shot.
Distracted driving kills 800 percent more Americans in a day than Ebola has in the last century. Texting plays a major role in that distracted driving statistic, and that doesn't include the occasional death from walking off a cliff while tapping at a phone. Meanwhile, Thomas Eric Duncan's tragic death was the first documented case of Ebola in US history.
To be as bluntly clear as possible, we're not trying to make light of the humanitarian crisis in West Africa. According to numbers updated this week, the World Health Organization has recorded nearly 5,000 deaths from Ebola in the region, with more than half of those in Liberia, and the true total may be three times that. While the epidemic has been contained in Nigeria and Senegal, the trio of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia are still in dire need of resources.
What we are poking fun at is the sheer absurdity of how some American news outlets have treated the crisis—like comparing Ebola to ISIS. The focus of hysteria does not seem to have a philanthropic or informative motivation, rather a more selfish, "How does this affect me?" bent.
The noise has gotten to be so much that even when the New York Times publishes a story about illnesses outside of the hot zone—presumably to deflate some of the hyperbole going around—some people read it as self-centered.
As the news cycle has wrung the neck of the Ebola story line, the number of known Ebola cases would seem to be in the hundreds, or at least in the tens. However, the reality is that, outside of West and Central Africa, only four people have died from the disease.
The collective freakout we're having needs to be refocused on the countries actually struggling to contain the disease, because here in the US, instagramming your Starbucks name typo from your car is a more tangible threat to your life than fatal hemorrhagic fever.
Maybe Ebola is getting more of our brain real estate intentionally. Is it too unsettling to think we live in a world where texting deaths, a completely avoidable and human-caused fatality, are more common than a Ebola, an actual biological disease?
Of course, we have to ask: Should Obama appoint a Texting Czar? Is there some type of Texting While Driving Swat Team that can help curb the number of distracted driving deaths occurring on our streets and highways? Probably not. (Forty-four states do have bans on texting while driving.)
This is the worst outbreak of Ebola to occur since 1976, when the disease was first documented, so it's not something to take lightly. But when the call to action is one of general panic and conspiracy, with no discernable goal of educating or actually informing the public, perhaps we're better off reading about more relevant and actionable news, or actually helping support relief efforts:
— Paul Allen (@PaulGAllen) October 23, 2014
Let this serve as a reminder to text responsibly. If you want to reach peak irony, go ahead and text a corny joke about Ebola while driving into a tree. But if you want to mitigate your risks of dying, which most of us do, just put down your phone when you get in the car. And with Halloween coming up, remember that it's your duty to ask anyone dressed in a Hazmat suit if they're supposed to be dressed as a tone-deaf asshole.