“Miller said she was walking along, paying more attention to her phone than where she was going…Her companions heard, “”Oh God!” And then a splash.”
ABC News, St. Joseph, Michigan
I’m torn about perpetuating these strange popular stories – Chicken Nugget Girl, Baby x , the guy with the homemade bird wings hoax. But they say so much about our culture, our ways of being. Woman-Who-Fell-Off-Pier-After-Texting-While-Walking also falls right into that “strange but true” category, as much for the wonder of her story being covered as an “exclusive” news piece by her local media, as anything else.
Although Woman-Who-Fell-Off-Pier was “quite embarrassed” about the whole thing , she was still willing to heroically go on the evening news at the scene of her clumsiness to talk about the experience which, from the seriousness of the reporters covering the piece, suggests it was so much more than a case of not looking where you’re going.
“I couldn’t let pride stand in my way of warning people to not drive and text, or walk and text. It can be dangerous,” Mrs. Miller told the reporter with equal gravity.
Besides the rescue circus of pier walkers who included Miller’s husband, son and a by-stander, fire fighers, police and the coast guard also showed up, no doubt at great expense to tax payers, amused or otherwise. Oh for the days of swimming and wading ashore (Miller fell into just six feet of water), or simply climbing up the ladder attached to the pier, and waving off undue attention.
What a strange new problem.
The dangers of texting while driving have become abundantly clear, if for whatever reasons they weren’t obvious in the first place. But walking? We have become toddlers in a strange texting land! Consider the following Fast Facts from the US Office of Compliance (who knew there was such an office?):
- A teenage girl in New York City fell six feet through an open manhole while texting, sustaining minor injuries but, more problematically, exposed to raw sewage.
- A Florida teen died from injuries received when he stepped into the path of oncoming cars as he crossed a busy city street while texting.
- A university exchange student stepped into the path of a bus while jogging and listening to an Ipod in North Carolina.
- A man sustained a broken finger when he tripped and fell while talking on his cell phone.
- At least three people in the Washington D.C. area have died in accidents recently while wearing headphones.
The report goes on to say, “A study conducted at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington by psychologist and professor Ira Hyman and his students noted that
talking on a cell phone takes a toll on cognition and awareness. The study showed that pedestrians using their cell phones often did not notice objects or people in their path. They also found a type of preoccupation called “inattention blindness,” meaning that a person can be looking at an object but fail to register it or process what it is. “
More stats, from the report, these from a study conducted by the University of Birmingham that focused on children using cell phones. The study found:
- Students using cell phones took up to 20% longer to cross the street than children who were not using a cell phone;
- Slow-crossing students with cell phones were up to 43% more likely to be hit by a vehicle while crossing the street; and
- Children looked both ways 20% fewer times when crossing the street while using cell phones
In a 2009 study published in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Pediatrics journal researchers found that children whotext or talk on a cell phone while walking near or on a street are 40 percent more likely to get hit by an automobile. Digital Trends cited a recent study by Stony Brook University that found participants texting while walking “consistently veered away from walking a straight path by a 60 % deviation. Wandering to the left or right could easily explain how Bonnie Miller found herself falling off the edge of the pier. The amount of distance traveled by people within the study increased by 13% and participants took approximately 33 % longer to reach a destination when texting while walking. The research team also found that walking while talking on a cell phone increased travel time by about 16%.”
Have we finally reached a time in our history where we’re so busy talking with our thumbs we can’t walk with our feet? Have we become sidewalk potatoes -sometimes mashed with a side of gravy? Will helmets and knee pads become accessories to smartphones?
As disturbing as it is entertaining, London, which is apparently among the most text-accident prone places in the world, went so far as to cushion all the lampposts on the evidently aptly named Brick Lane, a particularly hazardous stretch of pavement that in 2007 alone had a reported 68,000 texting accidents. Cameras were installed to “capture pictures of people running into these obstructions and record incident frequency.
I looked for some evidence of any resulting report, but couldn’t locate anything. Perhaps they’re just too embarrassed to release it.
Some of the finest minds are working on solutions though:
“For consumers with Android-powered smartphones,” notes the Digital Trends piece, ” an application developer named Sascha Affolter has created an app called Transparent Screen that uses the camera to show what’s directly in front of the user while walking. The transparency effect can be adjusted by the user and works when texting or using other applications like Google Maps.”
Great – a heads up display for the inattention-blind to further enable a bad habit – when you could just put your own darn head up and see where you’re going. Hate to go all Luddite here – I mean I’m organizing a Mini Maker Faire and everything! – but technology without common sense is just a waste of resources, potential and the human experience.
Casey Neistat is more inclined to counsel some tongue-in-cheek texting etiquette, instead…
I’ve been at dinners, on outings, and walks and otherwise hanging out with friends and family who feel compelled to answer every text chime, and to tap away about where they are, or where they’re going, or what they’re going to do next week, completely missing their immediate surroundings, head down while the world goes by, always somewhere else and rarely where they are. We ‘re not only taking a lot longer to reach our destination if we’re texting while walking, or while being with others, but we’re seeing commensurately less along the way.
And it’s not just that we fail to see the edge of the pier or the looming lamppost; we’re missing each other, the company of the people we’re with, their features and expressions, their gestures and touch, the nuances of their words and thoughts. We’re missing the scenery – trees, flowers, grass, birds and animals, the landscape of neighborhoods and cities, the play of shadows, the swirl of leaves or even paper in the wind– all the things that make up the texture and tapestry of our immediate surroundings in the present moment, an instant in time we pass through only for the briefest instant and never have again.
Long ago, the answering machine was this great invention that freed us from having to answer the phone every time it rang, or from having to wait around for important calls. We could leave home to do things and listen to the messages when we returned, disregard unimportant calls and return important ones as needed. Now, oddly, “smart” phones have enslaved us again, more deeply than a corded phone ever did, to the ball and chain of instant accessibility. Now instead of waiting at home for important calls – which were really far and few between – we’ve elevated every minute piece of communication to the realm of “important.”
But freeing ourselves is easy. Turn off the phone. It’s smart. It takes messages. Need to send or receive a truly important message? Then stop, pull over, sit down, excuse yourself briefly from your company– and then send or read. And turn it off and rejoin life, previously in progress.
And look up. It’s a 3D world out there –enjoy it!