Apr 27, 2022

It was ever thus – the older generation complaining about the behaviour of the young.

Certainly my parents did so as I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s, and I now find myself doing exactly the same.

(I do accept that with the dreadful things going on in the world right now, my complaint does rather pale into insignificance. But anyway, here goes…)

What is it, I want to know, that is so overwhelmingly, so all-consumingly, so mind-blowingly important that people think it is perfectly OK to walk along the street not looking where they are going, but instead staring down at their phone with total absorption?

I believe they are called ‘Phone Zombies’ and I reckon in my daily walks through my home city centre I encounter at least ten or twelve of them; people (usually under 30 but sometimes older), walking confidently along the pavement through heavy foot traffic, their noses buried deep in their screens, completely, totally and utterly oblivious to those around them.

Is it an indication of the self-centric nature of our society, that as they are not looking where they are going, so it is the oncoming pedestrian’s responsibility to get out of their way?

I certainly have to dodge a fair few of these zombies every day, and each one adds another brick to the growing wall of frustration and annoyance that I have built up on this topic (does it show…?).

Perhaps I can put in a brief point of smug self-justification here… If I think of something I need to check on my phone while I am out walking, or it pings with a message, then do you know what I do? I pull over to the side of the pavement and I stop. Then, when I have finished looking at my phone, I put it away and resume my walk. I realise I am out of step with modern society, where the latest Instagram post or WhatsApp text is clearly more important than consideration for other pavement users, but hey, just call me old-fashioned…

However, back to these ‘Phone Zombies’. As each one goes past, I turn my head and give them what I believe Paddington Bear called a ‘hard stare’. This is of course, completely wasted and they continue to make their way along the street, scattering responsible citizens like an ice-breaker ploughing through an Antarctic sea. The only benefit is that it makes me feel as if I have responded in some way.

Another factor is that I am a very fast walker, and I find slow movers who hold me up highly frustrating. So anyone ambling in front of me with their attention firmly fixed on their phone is going to feel the full force of my passive-aggression as I stride past, glancing angrily at their screen to see just what could possibly be so vital that it is worth making me ‘step on the brakes’ and ‘shift down a gear or two’ as I walk.

If I approach from the front I watch to see if they do that little ‘eye flick’ upwards, which I assume would enable them to see where they are going. But mostly they seem to be navigating by what I can only assume is a superpower-level of peripheral vision. Unless, of course, there’s an app I haven’t yet come across, which makes use of a special camera built into the top of the latest phones that points forward at an angle (mine is a seven year-old model, so doesn’t qualify). Maybe the camera sends a little ‘picture in picture’ to the screen, showing the pavement ahead. Very useful if you want to keep up with important texts about tonight’s pub crawl, without needing to break your stride.

The Government has understandably taken a very dim view of people looking at their phones when driving, as the consequences of a moment’s inattention can be catastrophic for both the individual driver and for other road users. While I accept that distracted walking is clearly a lesser risk, my concern is that it will only take one zombie to step out into the path of an oncoming car, or one to collide with a pedestrian with a weak heart, to make ‘walking without due care and attention’ into something that should be actively policed.

Meanwhile, I continue to stride and dodge and stare ineffectively as I go about my daily walks through the crowded city centre pavements, hoping that maybe one day I will get to see a Phone Zombie bounce off a lamp-post, or do a comedy pratfall over a street bench, thus validating my view that society is falling apart and things ain’t what they used to be….

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