Disbelief is what I felt when I first saw two pedestrian texters walk straight into each other, head to head. So engrossed with their lives that they could not spend the time to watch where they are going? As a technologist I am always interested in the social effects of technology on society. Distracted walking shows that the vast majority of people cannot do two things at the same time, that multi-tasking is really not feasible for most people, and that this behaviour can be potentially dangerous to the person and those around them.
In my commute to midtown I have seen a girl walk directly into a wall, two texters walk into each other and many near misses, where texters have almost hit other texters as well as other pedestrians. How is this considerate to those that actually watch where they are walking? These occurences are daily and are not rare. Oh no, they are more endemic than rare, and are a negative side effect of our addiction to our personal technology.
Distracted walking is rampant and dangerous. Most people believe they are capable of carrying out multiple tasks as the same time, such as walking and texting. The reality is that they are delusional. There is a finite amount to one’s attention span which one cannot exceed. Those that try find that their attention span will quickly switch between tasks, doing none of the tasks well, but leaving the person with the feeling they can do all tasks. Such “optimization”, while interesting and innately human, can only be called “lacking” and dangerous.
Researchers say they’re not surprised that multi-tasking pedestrians run into trouble. Psychological studies that show most people can’t focus on two things at once. Rather, their attention shifts rapidly back and forth between tasks, and performance suffers.
But like a lot of drivers who use cellphones behind the wheel, pedestrians often think they’re in control and that it’s all the other fools on their phones who aren’t watching what they’re doing.
It does get worse. Texting and driving can be deadly. While people still do it, here in Toronto and Ontario it is now illegal. There is documented proof that texting and driving, and the corollary of texting while walking, are clearly dangerous. While distracted walking makes for interesting Youtube videos that go viral, it is a sad reflection on how out of touch some people are with their own physiology and human limits.
…researchers at the University of Maryland have shown that distracted walking can have dire consequences. Their study identified 116 cases, between 2004 and 2011, where pedestrians wearing headphones were seriously injured or killed. During study period, the number of cases tripled.
As The L.A. Times points out, the problem is that people don’t see the problem of walking while distracted. “Most of us think that we can walk and text just fine,” Deborah Netburn writes. Bumping into another is a risk we’re willing to take “for the privilege of telling our dinner date we are ‘here!’ three minutes before actually walking in the door.” source
Distracted walking shows a failure to understand one’s human limits. It can be deadly and for what benefit?
Addendum: Dec 13 2012 1 in 3 pedestrians distracted by cellphones, study says
Jan 23 2012: Think you’re good at multi-tasking? You’re probably not
Feb 02 2013: How our brains deal with the chaos of city life
Walking down a city street, for example, seems so simple. And so, confusing the basic act of locomotion with the hazardous scene we’re traversing, we add a smartphone to the mix.
Big mistake: “The brain has a limited processing capacity,” says Prof. Lavie, “and when it’s flooded with high information load, it shuts out any information that is not considered task-relevant. And then there’s simply no capacity left for other stimuli like the cars, people and street poles that we bump into.”
Mar 26 2013: What’s as dangerous as distracted driving? Distracted walking
Aug 19 2013: Cellphones blamed as fatal collisions by ‘distracted drivers’ up 17%
Dec 25 2013: Distracted drivers not the only menace on the road
Mar 31 2014: Texting and walking problem addressed by tech giants
Dec 02 2015: ‘Distracted walking’ a serious issue, say most, but few admit to doing it
Apr 26 2016: German city installs ground-level traffic lights for smartphone-obsessed pedestrians
Nov 04 2016: Motor Mouth: “Petextrians” proving Darwin right
Nov 05 2016: Rise in ‘petextrians,’ time change mean more pedestrian collisions, auto makers working on solution
2017 Oct 25: Reading This While Walking? In Honolulu, It Could Cost You
Honolulu has passed a law, which will take effect Wednesday, that allows the police to fine pedestrians up to $35 for viewing their electronic devices while crossing streets in the city and surrounding county. Honolulu is thought to be the first major city to enact such a ban.