Let’s face it. We’ve all turned into a population of zombies thanks to our pesky smartphones. Whether it’s texting, tweeting, scrolling through Facebook or playing Candy Crush Saga, we somehow always find ourselves fiddling with our handheld devices on the go. That’s why they’re portable, right? Not quite.
New research suggests that smartphones – along with their versatile functions – are changing the way we walk on the street. It’s not invisible to the naked eye, granted. But apparently we do it so often that it’s beginning to change how we behave. So Bath University (UK) A&M University (TX, USA) went and conducted a joint study to take a closer look at the implications of texting and walking.
A cautious ‘gait’
The study used 30 participants aged 18-50 who were asked to complete three randomized, counter-balanced walking tasks:
1) normal walking (control)
2) texting and walking
3) texting and walking while also being cognitively distracted via a standard mathematical test
The results, as you’d imagine, weren’t too favorable for the respondents. When faced with cognitive distractions, the subjects started adopting “a more cautious gait.” Texting was found to cause people to slow their pace and make exaggerated movements to negotiate obstacles and turns, compensating for their smaller spectrum of vision – a protective measure to perform all the required tasks simultaneously and keep us safe from accidents, according to Dr Conrad Earnest. However, it hasn’t always worked out well.
A dangerous affair
Just a few weeks ago, a Chinese girl fell through a drain because she wasn’t paying attention to the road ahead. The reason? Texting whilst walking. A federal study conducted in 2011 said the number of pedestrians who were killed had risen from 4,109 to 4,432. A major culprit cited in the research ‘texting and walking.’ In 2012, things got so bad in Fort Lee, New Jersey, that the town started issuing $US85 tickets to any pedestrians caught texting and walking. There’s also a funny YouTube clip depicting some of the less serious cases where people fall in pools, walk into street poles, or fall down the stairs because their eyes are peeled to their smartphones (embedded below, for your viewing pleasure).
If we were to guess when this nightmare will end, it will probably be when wearables fully take off and replace the slate-shaped pocket computer known as the “smartphone.” As it stands, this device gravely affects our field of vision and attention span.