Commentary

Immediate Mobile Gratification Syndrome

In the past seven years, there has been a 400% increase in the number of people who have suffered a "distracted walking" accident while using a mobile phone, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Last year in the U.S., 1,150 people went to hospitals after walking into lampposts, falling into gutters and similar, uh, tragedies (?).  A Yahoo story says this figure is likely underreported. Ya recon?

Watching someone text their way toward injury presents an Always-On-Era moral struggle between the humane urge to issue a friendly warning and the delicious reward that comes from watching someone stupid enough to never look up while texting take a header into oncoming traffic. After all, these are probably the same horses’ asses who text while driving and occasionally kill a pedestrian or car full of innocents. 

Both New York and Arkansas apparently considered regulating the use of handheld devices and headphones while walking, but neither bill passed. Probably because legislators want to listen to Scissor Sisters while they walk from the statehouse to the nearest pub.

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I saw one good video on Tosh the other night of a woman (hard to tell) who walked into a fountain while texting. I can only hope someone is collecting lots of the same into a collection for our amusement -- and eventually for a federally sponsored ad campaign to "educate" the public against more of their own stupidity.

New Yorkers are already infected with "sidewalk rage" directed at tourists who stop on busy corners to consult maps or stare up at the skyline, oblivious to natives who are on a forward-leaning mission to get somewhere in well, you know, a New York minute. Add in further distractions from electronic  guidebooks, texting or looking up directions, and the old NYC joke ("Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to Grand Central -- or should I just go fuck myself?") will be evermore true.

On the other hand, it is only a matter of time before someone offers some sort of near-field radar app that issues a warning when you are closing in on an immovable object. Expect a Siri-like voice to start off with a pleasant "You might want to avoid the barrier ahead" starting at 15 feet, and ending with a shrill "Get Your Head Out Of Your Ass!" at two feet. But it won't do you much good if your handheld is snatched from your grasp by someone just slipping out of a closing subway door, a local NYC public service to help protect you from a later "distracted walking" accident.

The undercurrent question here is, when did getting or sending a communication become so urgent that it MUST be performed while walking on a crowded street? Somehow we managed to evolve through a couple of hundred thousand years (or seven days, if you fundamentally must) of history waiting to bump into the other guy in order to ask him face to face when the new seasons of “Boss” or “Homefront” would start? Letters were an improvement until email and texting (and 50-cent postage charges) rendered them obsolete (although your mom still likes to get a little note in her mailbox occasionally). Landline telephones, especially after the invention of answering machines, spawned the notion that, at least for teens, persistent communications were the only way to maintain a steady relationship.

Now that everyone on the planet has a mobile device, everything that for a few millennia could have waited, has suddenly become so goddamned important that it must be said or texted RIGHT NOW, even at the risk of injury.

And this we call progress.

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