A 100 foot-stretch of sidewalk in the city of Chongqing claims to be the first street for mobile phone addicts in China. People with eyes fixed on their screens have their own specially painted lane.
Mobile phone users follow white arrows painted on one side of the sidewalk. No need to lift heads from the glued gaze at devices; the arrows direct underfoot. Could the idea (and the very spray-painted stencils) have been copied almost exactly from a program on the National Geographic channel earlier this year?
Mobile phone addiction is rampant in China, as it is worldwide. One recent survey by zhaopin.com, a recruitment site, suggested that 80 per cent of the 10,000 white collar workers it polled admitted “severe addiction” to their phones.
Philadelphia officials drafted a safety campaign aimed at pedestrians who look at their devices instead of where they’re going. “One of the messages will certainly be ‘pick your head up’ — I want to say ‘nitwit,’ but I probably shouldn’t call them names,” said Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and public utilities.
As an April Fool’s Day joke with a serious message, Philadelphia officials taped off an “e-lane” for distracted pedestrians on a sidewalk outside downtown office buildings.
Some didn’t get that it was a joke.
“The sad part is we had people who, once they realized we were going to take the e-lane away, got mad because they thought it was really helpful to not have people get in their way while they were walking and texting,” Cutler said.
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.