PSA: You Can’t Walk and Use Your Phone

No one can. Not you. Not me. No one. So stop it.

By way of explanation: Last year I moved from a rural location (though it was just 20 minutes from the heart of Silicon Valley, California, USA) to a very urban location (Vancouver, BC, Canada). The number of things that changed in my life is huge, but for the purposes of this discussion two are particularly relevant.

  1. I used to drive everywhere. Now I take public transit most of the time.
  2. I used to be retired. Now I am in school full time.

Weekday mornings I ride a bus to a Canada Line station. From there I ride the skytrain a few stops to another station, from which I walk a few blocks to school.

At a guess, at least half the people on the bus and train are wearing headphones. Still more are using their phones for things that don’t need headphones — games, reading, texting, etc.

That’s a lot of phone users. And a large percentage of them have their phones out, in hand, and in active use. The problem is that so many don’t put them away when they start walking. I call them “phone zombies.”

Anyone with a phone in hand while attempting to walk is a hazard, both to themselves and others. They are also an annoyance.

When you’re eyes down in a phone, you are not paying attention to your surroundings. Oh, sure… you might think you are. You could be under the mistaken impression you can multitask. You can’t. No one can. There is something about the nature of a screen that sucks your attention away from everything else.

  • You may think you can walk in a straight line, but no. You wander from side to side on the sidewalk, getting in the way of those coming toward you, and of those behind you wanting to move faster than you are. Your path is unpredictable at best, and dangerous at worst.
  • You may think you can walk at a constant speed, but you don’t. You slow down when you’re trying to type something — or read something complicated, surprising, or emotional — and then speed up again when someone passes you and sighs in frustration at how oblivious you are to things. Again, you’re unpredictable, and irritating.
  • You may think you’re watching what is going on, but you’re not. You’ll trip on a curb, walk into a pole, or stumble in front of a car. Frankly it’s a wonder you’re still alive.

Please understand that all of the above apply to me as well. I’ve tried it. I can’t walk and use my phone either. Not possible. Not safe.

If your phone is safely tucked away in a pocket, purse, or bag, your head will be up and you’ll be watching your surroundings. If, however, you’re staring at the screen, you’re a menace. I’m sure it’s inadvertent, but it’s still true.

I don’t really care if you wear headphones while you walk, but please put the phone itself away. Though, to be honest, walking in a city means knowing what is going on around you, and if you’re unable to hear things, you are taking more risk at every intersection. Personally, I’d take the headphones off while walking, but that’s your choice, and I won’t second guess you on it. If you get injured or die because your favourite band is drowning out the sound of screeching brakes, it isn’t likely you’ll be taking others with you.

As side note for my fellow pedestrians: be aware of a sub-set of phone users who carry their phones in hand, all the time. Even when not in use. They are likely to become distracted by that demanding, intoxicating, tiny-but-ever-so-shiny screen without notice. Give them a wide berth when you see them, for your own safety and peace of mind.

If you’re a phone user, please take this into consideration. You can put it away when you’re walking. Watch your surroundings. See the people around you. Be amused by them, even. Avoid annoying others and your own death. It’s really not that hard.

Thank you.

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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