A girl falls into a manhole, another lady face-plants on some stairs, and one guy almost gets mauled by a goddam bear. At this point, we’re way past ridiculous, and it’s all happening simply because people are walking around like techno zombies whose life-forces are seemingly sustained by the digital fix coming out of their phones. So the next time you go for a stroll, I implore you: Put the phone down, pick your head up, and walk.
Look, I get it. As someone whose job involves checking out every new portable device and is rarely caught with fewer than three different handsets, I know all too well that phones are incredibly addictive. Their brightly colored displays make real life seem boring, while your friends, associates, and everyone else on social media constantly beg for your attention. And you often obey, even despite evidence that suggests all that crap actually makes us sad.
Even companies like Google and Apple have acknowledged the problem, which is why both are making digital well-being a major area of improvement for their next big mobile OS releases. Have we really gotten so addicted to tech that we can’t stand not absorbing everything we can from the internet for more than a few minutes at a time, even while walking? Apparently, yes.
Every day, as I’m commuting back and forth to work and meetings, I’m constantly beset by people who look like ostriches, with their necks craned down at their handsets while trying to navigate busy sidewalks, stairs, and escalators through what I can only assume is a mixture of unhelpful peripheral vision and some form of ESP. But it never works. And it’s not just walking and texting either—people are watching Netflix, FaceTiming, and even playing games while they mill about.
At this point, everyone knows that trying to text or, even worse, watch a movie while driving is deadly and dumb. And while distracted walking may not be quite as dangerous, these accidents are no joke: A study conducted by Ohio State University found that, in 2010, more than 1,500 people ended up in the emergency room due to not looking where they were walking. That was before the majority of people in the U.S. owned smartphones. As of 2011, just 35 percent of us had a phone capable of full mind-emersion, according to Pew Research. That number jumped to 77 percent at the start of this year. Now, I constantly have to slalom my way down the sidewalk to keep from running into the zombie walkers.
None of this means you need to take your headphones out or refrain from looking up directions on your device; just remember to keep your eyes up while you’re doing it. Besides, if you decide to unplug from your phone for a while, you might be able to reconnect with your immediate surroundings—you know, the people and things that are just as important, if not more so, than what’s going on inside that tiny little screen.
So while the tech giants work on lessening the impact of smartphone addiction, in the end, real change has to come from within. But just in case that doesn’t work, here’s a message from the rest of us on the internet: If you’re walking, it’s time to log off.