These days, pedestrians tapping away while walking are hard to miss.
These days, pedestrians tapping away while walking are hard to miss. Andreas Tittelbach/iStockphoto
We've all grumbled about the growing ranks of phone-gazing zombies, drifting along the sidewalk or holding up the checkout line. Texting while walking, distracted walking, the smartphone sidewalk scourge — whatever you call it, this phenomenon has rapidly become a nearly inescapable frustration of modern life.
Oliver Burkeman over at The Guardian has had enough. He missed a subway train on Friday, he writes, when the woman in front of him on the stairs "drifted placidly to a standstill ... distracted by something on her smartphone."
As Burkeman notes (as have our friends over at Shots), these head-down meanderers aren't just annoying. They're also at risk of hurting themselves by walking into crosswalks without looking both ways and lingering as they cross — never mind stumbling off curbs, running into parking meters and knocking into other pedestrians.
To that last point, Burkeman laments what he (and surely many of us) have observed as a shift in sidewalk etiquette: Whether consciously or not, distracted walkers now assume that it's the responsibility of other pedestrians to make way for them, not the other way around.
And to nip this development in the bud, he proposes a "simple, legal, non-aggressive act of resistance," namely, refusing to play along.
"Next time you're implicitly required to alter your path to avoid colliding with an oblivious phone user ... just don't, and see what happens ...
"And just to be clear, you must still dodge people if you get within a few feet: we're trying to prevent accidents here, not cause them (or start fights). But based on my experiments so far, you'll never get that close. Distracted walkers aren't completely unaware of their surroundings, after all. It's just that their range of awareness is smaller. Once you finally impinge upon it, they'll look up, steer around you, and walk on, ever so slightly conditioned to pay more attention next time."
I'm not entirely innocent here, myself. And plenty of you may be guilty, too. Perhaps, at a time when almost 60 percent of American adults own a smartphone, Burkeman is fighting a losing battle.
But tell us what you think — for the distracted walkers among you, would a few near-collisions convince you to put down your phone? For the rest of you, would you dare try it? Or will this approach just tick up sidewalk frustration for everyone? Let us know in the comments.