Do the text-obsessed need their own lane?

US university introduces a separate lane for screen-obsessed pedestrians

Image via Flickr: Jhaymesisviphotography

Even among so-called Millennials (which is the generation most people reading this belongs to), the smartphone has not been around for a large amount of time – for many of us, our first phones were typically bulky Nokias from the brick-era of Mobiles.

Many of us often had to make do with these for several years before we could have anywhere near enough money saved to buy smartphones, which have really only been adopted on a massive scale in the last several years.

However, especially when you consider those who were able to immediately buy the smartphones as soon as they became popularised, the smartphone has been around long enough to create concern over its usage.

The most commonplace of these concerns relate to those who walk around while texting – a pretty harmless activity, for the most part. However, this is not without its dangers.

Last year, a study done by the Car insurance giant, AXA, revealed that around 23% of students admit to been distracted while crossing a road on their way to school. In Britain, it is believed that up to 10% of people have suffered some minor injury while using a mobile.

With such statistics showing the dangers of distraction by mobiles, it is not surprising that drivers of vehicles are now banned from using them while on the road. However, that doesn’t stop pedestrians from putting themselves into danger as a result of mobile use – as the 35% rise in pedestrian injuries linked to mobile use in the US testifies to.

There is an idea for creating a special pedestrian lane for those glued to their phones, and the Utah Valley University in the United States has actually introduced one, on a staircase in their Student Life and Wellness centre.

It consists of three lanes, demarcated by neon tape – one for walkers, one for runners, and one for those who want to text while walking. Although, it should be pointed out that it is not exactly a serious attempt to actually direct traffic flow with the University’s corridors.

Matt Bambrough, Utah Valley’s creative director, stated that the aim was “to engage our students, to catch their attention and to let them know we are aware of who they are and where they’re coming from. The design was meant for people to laugh at, rather than a real attempt to direct traffic flow.”

In fairness, they are not exactly pioneering the idea of texting lanes. It has been done before, in Antwerp in the Netherlands, and in Chongqing in China.

While a private mobile company and an area management company respectively have been responsible for each of these efforts, like in the Utah Valley University, they are not meant to be serious attempts to strictly direct pedestrian traffic – the main motivation seems to be a bit of tongue-in-check fun.

However, texting lanes have sometimes been created with more serious intent in mind – namely, for research purposes, as was the case in Washington DC (USA) back in July, by National Geographic Television.

In this case, a section of a footpath in the American capital was divided into two zones. One was a mobile phone-free zone, for those who wanted to walk quickly to their destinations. The other was dedicated to those who wanted to look at their mobile phones.

The researchers behind the experiment found that only a small amount of people actually bothered to move into the correct lane, once they spotted the markings. So clearly people are not too bothered in general by those who are focused on their phones – at least, not so much that they would actually bother changing lane to avoid them.

Regardless, in both Chongqing and in Washington, the footpaths did nonetheless attract notice, as the urge to photograph the lanes proved too much for many smartphone-toting pedestrians, and became local points of interest as a result.

So, should Ireland consider introducing these lanes? Well, again, none of the above places actually introduced these footpaths due to any actual practical consideration – motives for their instalment have ranged from scientific research to a simple marketing ploy.

However, it is worth going back to the motivation behind their introduction on the campus in Utah Valley University, where the texting lane was installed in order to raise awareness about the problems that come from obsessive texting.

If you are going to actually take anything away from this article, maybe consider whether or not you have become more absorbed in the technology in your hand, than in the world around you.

Don’t get me wrong, the invention of mobile phones – and subsequently, smartphones – has made quick, on-the-fly communication much more convenient than was ever thought to be possible even 30 years ago.

But as someone who does not have the luxury of owning a smartphone with enough space to download a free-text app, I do know that it’s definitely possible to keep in touch with what’s going on in your social circle without looking at your mobile every few seconds.

At least when walking from A to B, you should be able to wait to get somewhere to sit down for a few minutes, before checking out your Facebook feed.

By Tomás M. Creamer

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