Researchers Say Texting While Walking Turns You Into a Robot (Sort of)

Each day, people lurch along city streets like zombies from “The Walking Dead,” unable to tear themselves away from smartphone screens. A group of Australian researchers tried to prove that texting while walking is dangerous. And succeeded. Surprise.

I know it sounds mean, but when I hear about someone getting hit by a car or falling down an open manhole while texting, I think: Darwin Award! Seriously, how dumb do you have to be to walk across the street with your head down and your eyes and brain occupied by a smartphone?

But those kinds of incidents are happening fairly often as smartphones take over the world. Do a Google search for “accidents while walking and texting” and you’ll get more than 100,000 hits, including this breathless news clip that shows a guy walking into a wall while texting, a women falling into a fountain, and a man practically running into a bear that somehow appeared on a city street because he couldn’t see what was happening right in front of him.

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I live in San Francisco, ground zero for gadget addiction, and I’m a pretty big guy. But people often don’t see me when they’re texting on the street or in the grocery store. It’s kind of funny until one of these bozos bumps into me or makes me move like a wide receiver dodging Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

A new study by researchers in Australia confirms the obvious proposition that texting while walking is dangerous. Why they needed to study this escapes me. Perhaps they were fresh out of research ideas or hard up for grant money? In any case, the people who took part in the study had their movement tracked while they walked a length of around 30 feet – once while texting, once while reading a text and once without distraction.

When people walk and use their phones they slow down and swerve, even if they think they are walking in a straight line, the researchers noted. Secondly, people walk “like a robot” while texting, one of the researchers, Dr Siobhan Schabrun, told Guardian Australia.

“They hold their body posture really rigid,” she said. “Their arms, trunk and head are all fixed together and they walk a little bit more like a robot.”  Schabrun said this upsets a person’s balance, making them more susceptible to tripping, and also makes it harder to recover their balance when they do trip.

I’m not so insensitive as to laugh off the death in 2011 of a Melbourne teenager who died after falling from a parking garage while texting to a friend. That was, of course, a tragedy. But an easily preventable one.  

One more serious note: If texting while walking is dangerous, consider texting while driving. C’mon folks. Cut it out.

Main image: Old Gold & Black  Teaser image: Pat’s Paper’s

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