How long can you sit without a phone?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 6, 2016

There is an old joke about people who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Apparently, there are a whole lot of us who can’t, or don’t need to, look at our cell phones and walk at the same time.

There’s even a name for it — distracted walking, and yep it’s a category the National Safety Council included in its annual report on unintentional deaths and injuries. It seems folks are so interested in what’s on their mobile devices they are hurting themselves.

For example, they think a man fell 40 feet off a cliff in California when he failed to watch where he was going while trying to take a picture of the sunset. Ironic that it turned out he captured his own sunset.

A security camera caught a woman walking straight into a fountain as she fiddled with her phone. And, there is a video of a man stepping off a platform onto train tracks while, you guessed it, he played with his phone.

At first, I found it hard to conceive of the idea that people are so attached to their devices they hurt themselves. I mean we can do without our phones long enough to cross the street, right?

In an effort to curb, no pun intended, the problem of people stepping into traffic without looking up, some cities are attempting to fine distracted walkers. They say it’s not an easy thing to police.

I shook my head in amazement as I read this story. I mean seriously, can’t people get off their phones long enough to cross the street safely. Surely, this is not as big an issue as they are making it.

However, one study said between 2000 and 2011, there were more than 11,000 people injured while walking and talking on phones. Apparently, those numbers have gone up since that study.

Again, I shook my head in disbelief until, during the family Christmas gathering at my house, I discovered how hard it is to let go of the security of staying connected at all times.

After noticing how much attention phones got at my Mother’s holiday get-together, I decided when my children and grandchildren arrived to spend time together I’d make a little announcement. It went like this…

“Hey everybody,” I said, as I stood holding a little brown basket. “I want you all to turn off your phones and put them in this basket”

A great “WHAT?” arose from the couch and assorted chairs.

“You can have them back after we eat,” I said.

I’m not sure what I saw but I think on some faces it was panic. I also heard a whispered, “That’s silly.” I’m pretty sure I know who said it, but I’m not calling names.

Anyway, they complied, not exactly happily, but they complied. They didn’t put them in the basket, but stacked them on the end table. I think they were afraid I would take off with the basket and hold the phones hostage for the rest of the afternoon.

The second they thought “eating time” was over, they asked if they could have their phones. There was a mad dash for the table. I looked around to see most of their heads bowed while fingers scrolled and texted.

Back to distracted walking. I read that distracted walking encounters happen to 53 percent of adult cell phone users. That’s a lot of bumping into, ramming, tripping etc.

After my holiday cell phone experiment, I hope these people whom I love dearly are not part of the growing distracted walking problem. I feel sure they know to look up when they cross a busy street or come near cliffs, train tracks or a fountain.

Still, if there is a category called “distracted sitting” I witnessed it in my living room,” — well that’s all I’m saying on this subject.

Except for, I love you kids — text me. (I’m pretty sure after they read this, they aren’t going to text me.)


Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.