[fcb-l] Fw: [Acbny-l] They Have Eyes but They Do Not See
don.moore48 at comcast.net
Fri Jan 29 01:35:05 GMT 2010
Forget Gum. Walking and Using Phone Is Risky.
By MATT RICHTEL
New York Times
SAN FRANCISCO - On the day of the collision last month, visibility was good.
The sidewalk was not under repair. As she walked, Tiffany Briggs, 25, was
talking to her grandmother on her cellphone, lost in conversation.
"I ran into a truck," Ms. Briggs said.
It was parked in a driveway.
Distracted driving has gained much attention lately because of the inflated
crash risk posed by drivers using cellphones to talk and text.
But there is another growing problem caused by lower-stakes multitasking -
distracted walking - which combines a pedestrian, an electronic device and
an unseen crack in the sidewalk, the pole of a stop sign, a toy left on the
living room floor or a parked (or sometimes moving) car.
The era of the mobile gadget is making mobility that much more perilous,
particularly on crowded streets and in downtown areas where multiple
multitaskers veer and swerve and walk to the beat of their own devices.
Most times, the mishaps for a distracted walker are minor, like the lightly
dinged head and broken fingernail that Ms. Briggs suffered, a jammed digit
or a sprained ankle, and, the befallen say, a nasty case of hurt pride. Of
course, the injuries can sometimes be serious - and they are on the rise.
Slightly more than 1,000 pedestrians visited emergency rooms in 2008 because
they got distracted and tripped, fell or ran into something while using a
cellphone to talk or text. That was twice the number from 2007, which had
nearly doubled from 2006, according to a study conducted by Ohio State
University, which says it is the first to estimate such accidents.
"It's the tip of the iceberg," said Jack L. Nasar, a professor of city and
regional planning at Ohio State, noting that the number of mishaps is
probably much higher considering that most of the injuries are not severe
enough to require a hospital visit. What is more, he said, texting is rising
sharply and devices like the iPhone have thousands of new, engaging
applications to preoccupy phone users.
Mr. Nasar supervised the statistical analysis, which was done by Derek
Troyer, one of his graduate students. He looked at records of emergency room
visits compiled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Examples of such visits include a 16-year-old boy who walked into a
telephone pole while texting and suffered a concussion; a 28-year-old man
who tripped and fractured a finger on the hand gripping his cellphone; and a
68-year-old man who fell off the porch while talking on a cellphone,
spraining a thumb and an ankle and causing dizziness.
Young people injured themselves more often. About half the visits Mr. Troyer
studied were by people under 30, and a quarter were 16 to 20 years old. But
more than a quarter of those injured were 41 to 60 years old.
Pedestrians, like drivers, have long been distracted by myriad tasks, like
snacking or reading on the go. But the constant interaction with electronic
devices has made single-tasking seem boring or even unproductive.
Cognitive psychologists, neurologists and other researchers are beginning to
study the impact of constant multitasking, whether behind a desk or the
wheel or on foot. It might stand to reason that someone looking at a phone
to read a message would misstep, but the researchers are finding that just
talking on a phone takes its own considerable toll on cognition and
Sometimes, pedestrians using their phones do not notice objects or people
that are right in front of them - even a clown riding a unicycle. That was
the finding of a recent study at Western Washington University in
Bellingham, Wash., by a psychology professor, Ira Hyman, and his students.
One of the students dressed as a clown and unicycled around a central square
on campus. About half the people walking past by themselves said they had
seen the clown, and the number was slightly higher for people walking in
pairs. But only 25 percent of people talking on a cellphone said they had,
Mr. Hyman said.
He said the term commonly applied to such preoccupation is "inattention
blindness," meaning a person can be looking at an object but fail to
register it or process what it is.
Particularly fascinating, Mr. Hyman said, is that people walking in pairs
were more than twice as likely to see the clown as were people talking on a
cellphone, suggesting that the act of simply having a conversation is not
the cause of inattention blindness.
One possible explanation is that a cellphone conversation taxes not just
auditory resources in the brain but also visual functions, said Adam
Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco.
That combination, he said, prompts the listener to, for example, create
visual imagery related to the conversation in a way that overrides or
obscures the processing of real images.
By comparison, walking and chewing gum (that age-old measure of pedestrian
skill at multitasking) is a snap.
"Walking and chewing are repetitive, well-practiced tasks that become
automatic," Dr. Gazzaley said. "They don't compete for resources like
texting and walking."
Further, he said, the cellphone gives people a constant opportunity to
pursue goals that feel more important than walking down the street.
"An animal would never walk into a pole," he said, noting survival instincts
would trump other priorities. And we call *them* dumb animals.
For Shalamar Jones, 19, the priority was keeping in touch with her
boyfriend. Last month while she was Christmas shopping in a mall near San
Francisco, she was texting him when - bam! - she walked into the window of a
New York & Company store, thinking it was a door.
"I thought it was open," she said, noting that no harm was done. "I just
started laughing at myself."
The worst part is the humiliation, said Christopher Black, 20, an art
student at San Francisco State University who 18 months ago had his own
At the time, Mr. Black said, the sidewalks were packed with pedestrians. So
he decided he could move faster if he walked in the street, keeping close to
the parked cars. The trouble is he was also texting - with a woman he was
He unwittingly started to veer into the road, prompting an oncoming car to
honk. He said he instinctively jumped toward the sidewalk but, in the
process, forgot about the line of parked cars.
"I splayed against the side of the car, and the phone hit the ground," he
said. He and his phone were uninjured, except for his pride. "It was pretty
To the Editor:
Thank you for your article about cellphone-addicted pedestrians.
I am a disabled woman who walks with the aid of two canes. Just recently, I
was leaving my local train station, and a man, talking animatedly on his
cellphone, kicked one of my canes as he rushed past. I bobbled badly but
managed not to fall. I found the man outside the station still talking. I
tapped him on the shoulder several times, and when he took no notice, I
yelled, "You kicked my cane and I nearly fell!"
His irritated response? "I can't talk now. Can't you see I'm on the phone?"
Collingswood, N.J., Jan. 17, 2010
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