It’s official — we’re dumber than we thought. The New York Times recently published a piece on the dangers of distracted walking (walking glued to electronic devices) complete with tips on how to walk.
Yep, it’s that bad. We need instructions on how to walk.
On the bright side, the article did not include instructions on how to stand upright. At least we still know how to do a few things. Sort of.
If Charles Darwin were alive, he might need to update that popular graphic on the evolution of man. Upright man is rapidly returning to crouched position. It began with Earbud Man (head slightly down) followed by Cellphone Man (head down, shoulders rounded and back hunched). Of course, there are the occasional interruptions in regression demonstrated by Selfie Man, who frequently assumes erect posture with an extended arm, elongated neck and upright head.
Distracted walkers are also known as petextrians, people who text while walking. Petextrians often stumble off curbs, walk headfirst into light poles, fall down stairs, or collide with you and your hot cup of coffee. They are like drivers who text, only without the protection of a large steel casing and airbags.
Petextrians often admit to texting while crossing the street. Anybody who navigates traffic areas on foot, glued to an electronic device, has weak survival instincts. Whenever you intersect the path of a human with the path of a motor vehicle, the odds are overwhelming that it’s not going to end well for the human.
Two of the more famous petextrians include a woman in Alaska who fell off a 12-foot cliff and had to be airlifted to safety before the tide rolled in, as well as the Pennsylvania woman who walked into a mall fountain while glued to her phone.
A man at the gym I go to often winds up on a treadmill only a few treadmills away. He has wonderful headphones that shut out the world. I know, because I have a pair, too. The man’s headphones lead him into such a deep, faux isolation that he often sings along. Loudly. The problem is, it is often hard to tell if he is singing or experiencing acute pain.
There is something captivating about the gadgets that let us create small worlds within the larger world. There is something compelling about the small devices that beep, buzz and chime. We have been conditioned to respond to them and respond quickly, like Pavlov’s dogs.
Unfortunately, unlike Pavlov’s dogs, we do not have eyes on the sides of our heads giving us good peripheral vision, nor are our reflexes as quick. And so we are back to square one, the basics of walking: “Look where you’re going.”
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that, at any given moment, 60 percent of pedestrians on the streets of America are distracted while walking.
All this petextrian business gives added dimension to the jokes that used to begin, “A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar.”
Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Reach her at email@example.com.