We have all seen it happening here in New York City, across the country, and around the world – people texting while walking and causing some kind of havoc. Since 91% of Americans now have a cell phone, there is obviously a great opportunity for these kinds of “distracted while walking” accidents. 127 New York City pedestrians were killed in 2012, but there is no concrete proof that they were all connected to distracted walking, still it seems likely many of them were. From what I have witnessed texting and walking is reaching epidemic proportions in this city. You have much more chance of getting hurt by a distracted walker than you have of catching the Ebola virus.
A recent article in the New York Daily News by Meredith Engel highlights the problem as becoming an unending story of falls off curbs, collisions with fellow pedestrians, tumbles down stairs, and encounters (sometimes fatal) with cars, buses, or subway trains. She notes that distracted walking – tweeting, texting, emailing, Facebooking, and Instagraming – accounts for 78% of pedestrian injuries across the country.
As a witness to some of these occurrences, I have seen people crashing into each other while both were texting, someone almost falling off a subway platform, and one guy tumbling over a park bench. Similar incidents have been captured on those same smartphones causing all this trouble and posted on the Internet. We have all seen the woman falling into the water fountain, the guy tumbling down an escalator, and the man being hit by a bicycle. Maybe we have laughed at these things too, but the truth is this kind of thing is far from funny.
What is the lure of the text message? Why do most of us find that little ping that tells us we have a new one irresistible? Engel asks this of psychologist Dr. Larry Rosen of California State University who specializes in technology. He says, “We’re obsessed with not missing out on something important.” He also tells her that we have a need to know things “immediately.” He calls it FOMO – the fear of missing out.
When I watch people on the streets, their cell phones seem to be appendages now. When they first became popular, people had them attached to their belts, in their pockets, or secure in purses. Now it is common to see them held right out in front of their faces as they walk, or securely ensconced against an ear for an obviously crucial conversation.
It is irrefutable that cell phones have changed our lives and, while many will say for the better, their convenience and technology have come at a staggering price. While some would argue that our phones have brought us together, from what I see all around me is that we are distancing ourselves from everyone else, all preoccupied with a little screen in our hands with blinders on to the world around us. We don’t see what’s happening across the street let alone right in front of our faces because we are so busy being connected that we are getting farther apart.
Once we were worried about cell phone use in cars, but then we discovered hands-free technology that helped cut down on that transgression; however, as I drive I am still seeing many people with the cell phones pressed up against their heads. Only the other day at a stoplight I saw a man with his phone in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. I thought, “Who’s driving? Siri?” Stopped at another light I saw a woman texting with one hand while looking in the rearview mirror and doing her makeup with the other. This takes multi-tasking to a whole new, dangerous level.
I never texted before last year, resisting it as something I didn’t need in my life; however, once I got a smartphone, everything changed. Within a month I eschewed phone conversations almost entirely, opting instead to text away. I have to admit I felt the urge to text while walking and then even while driving (but limited myself to doing it only at stoplights). I realized though that I had become hooked when I walked into a garbage can on the street and hurt my leg. This wake-up call changed my perspective. Another game changer came while driving when I saw a guy texting as he passed me at a high speed and then swerve off the highway a few miles down the road with his car ending up deep in the brush on the shoulder (hopefully his wake-up call).
Now my cell phone is firmly in my pocket as I walk. If it buzzes with a text or I get a phone call, I move off to the side away from pedestrians and look at my phone. In the car I place it in a holder and can answer it hands-free if it rings, but I wait to check my texts when I get where I am going. It’s fairly easy for me now, but as Dr. Rosen suggests, you have to train your brain to be without your cell phone like a toddler going through potty training. You need to take increased increments of time (15, 20, 30 minutes and so on) without your cell phone. I know it sounds difficult but it can work, but only if you persist, just like that little tyke who wants to be diaper free.
Can you face life without constant texting? Maybe limiting it will save your life someday or someone else’s. Baby steps, dear readers, baby steps!
Photo credits: gadgmag.com, getty images, studentaffairs@stonybrook@edu
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