Op-Ed: Let’s not walk and talk at the same time

PLU students with their cellphones. Cellphones has a tendency to negatively effect face-to-face interaction. Photo by Dianne McGinness

PLU students with their cellphones. Cellphones have a tendency to negatively affect face-to-face interaction. Photo by Dianne McGinness

You walk out of class, glance at the sky, smell the flowers and pull out your cellphone to check your text messages, Facebook, Twitter and e-mails – Distracted walking, in a nutshell. Distracted walking is yet another way in which people are losing touch with the actual world and becoming immersed in a digital world. Walking with a cellphone takes away from face-to-face interactions, diminishes situational awareness and increases safety risks.

Face-to-Face Interaction

You’re walking and checking your Facebook when a friend walks by, only you don’t greet, wave or smile at your friend because you are too busy looking at your phone. When walking and using a cellphone or smartphone, you tend to lose face-to-face interaction time with others.

Executive Editor of Media Shift Mark Glaser visited his alma mater, University of Missouri Columbia and commented on a peculiar social trend in his article How cell phones are killing face-to-face interaction.

“While wandering around campus, I noticed that just about every student had a cell phone out to read text messages or check voicemails as they walked around,” he said, “whether they had friends nearby or not.”

Students have an inclination to engage in cellphone interaction instead of talking with one another. Cellphones seem to be taking over the most basic form of interaction: talking. To top it off, people have started paying less attention to what is going on around them.

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A PLU student walks across campus while talking on his phone. The rise of the distracted walker has been shown to correlate to an increase in safety risks as well. Photo by Dianne McGinness

Situational Awareness 

Cellphone use while walking has also shown a  diminished awareness of surroundings.

In a study done on Western Washington University’s campus, a clown uncicyled around a main college square. It was found that when asked directly, cell-phone users were less than half as likely to notice the clown. Only about 25 percent of cellphone users walking past noticed the clown at all.

Cellphone users failed to notice something as ostentatious as a clown riding a unicycle.

NPR reporter Carol Guensburg continued the discussion of the lacking in situational awareness on a radio program.

“But preoccupied pedestrians, especially those listening at high volume, risk more than hearing impairment,” she said. “Their absorption can create a loss of “situation awareness similar to that of distracted drivers. Inattention can have serious — even deadly — consequences.”

In a study that looked at the negative effect cellphones have on pedestrian safety, out of a sample of 127 people, cellphone users had the highest tendency to walk out in front of an approaching car without looking around. The study found that 82 percent of cellphone users would walk out into the street when a car was approaching.

A lack of situational awareness can lead to more than simply not being aware of your surroundings as safety hazards also come into play.

Safety Risks

Walking and using a cellphone has been shown to increase pedestrian safety risks.

According to a NY Times article, more than 1000 people visited emergency rooms in 2008 due to walking and talking, texting, tweeting, etc. at the same time. The same article also mentioned a 16 year old boy walked into a telephone pole and suffered a concussion because he was texting. A 28 year old man tripped and fractured a finger, but still managed to hold on to his cellphone.

Pacific Lutheran University senior Nataly Meyer attributes her lack of texting and walking to safety risks.

“I normally don’t text when I walk just because I can’t multitask,” she said. “Oftentimes I see myself running into people or running into things if I text.”

Though accidents are minimal, they still occur and can have detrimental consequences.

On a Positive Note 

There are some that argue that walks between class or around the shopping market are the only times they have to check their emails and Facebook notifications. Others comment on their dislike of walking alone as a reason for cellphone use.

Puyallup resident Brien Jaksha attributed his cellphone walking habits to nervousness. People get nervous walking alone, he said, so they like to hide that in a cellphone.

Yet a cellphone can not do for you what a person can. A friendly wave or smile from a friend or another individual has been shown to brighten anyone’s day.

Whatever the reason for use, cellphones while walking take away from moments to talk to friends, reduce your awareness of your surroundings and has been shown to increase safety risks.

So next time you are outside smell the flowers, wave at a friend, smile at a stranger and take in your surroundings instead of burying your face in your cellphone.

Categories: Opinion

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