Walking and texting challenge us to pay attention simultaneously to two different activities. As with driving and texting, the dangers are real. But walking is more physically demanding than driving, requiring coordination on many levels.
Researchers at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia found these effects of peripatetic texting:
- There is a distortion of gait and walking form, which even unintentionally, causes a more upright, rigid body position.
- Gait patterns change; texters take shorter steps at slower pace.
- With an unchanging head position, eyes on the screen and chins bent toward chests, their neck and lower back joints have less range of motion.
- When arms stop swinging loosely and are bent and locked into place, there are mechanical constraints on the upper body and midsection.
- As pelvic joints stiffen, their leg motions become jerkier.
- Walking a straight line is difficult; texters’ feet veer to the side with almost every step.
In summary: texters walk ‘like robots’. This research suggests that their bodies and brains have prioritized the texting over the natural movements in walking. Little wonder that poles and other pedestrians get in the way.
Adapted from “The Art of Texting While Walking” by Gretchen Reynolds.
A young man talking on a cellphone meanders along the edge of a lonely train platform at night. Suddenly he stumbles, loses his balance and pitches over the side, landing head first on the tracks. Fortunately, no trains were approaching that Philadelphia-area station at that moment. The man recovered his balance and climbed out of danger. Security cameras captured the whole incident and the images were sent to The Associated Press. The risks of distracted walking are getting everyone’s attention.
Hospital emergency rooms in the U.S. treat an increasing number of injured pedestrians. The cases include:
- a 24-year-old woman who walked into a telephone pole while texting
- a 28-year-old man who was walking along a road when he fell into a ditch while talking on a cellphone
- a 12-year-old boy who was looking at a video game when he was clipped by a pickup truck as he crossed the street
- a 53-year-old woman who fell off a curb while texting and lacerated her face
- a 67-year-old man walking along the side of a road was hit a by a bicyclist who was talking on a cellphone as he rode