We’ve all been guilty of texting while walking, and potentially running into our fellow pedestrians as a result. The nightly news stations love to dissect this habit on the regular, and it’s hard not to wonder what it means for us as a species. In the future, will public sidewalks be dotted with as many “Don’t Text And Walk” signs as highways are with “Buckle Up” signs? Will humans evolve into creatures with slouchy spines that are perpetually hunched over in a typing position because so much of the time we spend walking is also spent hunched over our phones (science folks, humor me, I studied the liberal arts, is that a thing)!?
Researchers at the University of Queensland are digging a little deeper into our texting-while-walking habits to find out whether it’s creating change within our bodies. The research team published a paper in PLOS ONE, a journal, which details their findings (spoiler alert: texting is ruining the way we walk). The researchers examined the way 26 healthy people moved while walking normally, then as they were walking while reading texts on their phones, and lastly, while walking and simultaneously composing a text. The way our bodies move when so much of our cognitive energy is devoted to what’s on the phone is vastly different from a person’s typical gait. Our posture becomes unconsciously dedicated to typing rather than getting where we’re going, and our main priority becomes keeping our screen from shaking rather than keeping ourselves from swerving all over the street. We walk more slowly, we weave back and forth, and our arms and necks remain relatively stiff. Apparently, swinging our arms as we walk is a major key to staying balanced (who knew!). So, when our arms stay at our sides because we’re texting, we’re more likely to wobble while we walk and, say, collide with light posts on the sidewalk.
This is all pretty obvious by taking one look at someone who’s glued to their phone on the street, but now there’s research to back it up, which puts this semi-grim information into a much more serious leagueI feel like I say it all the time, but this problem is such a facepalm moment for our society. We’re all grown adults willingly allowing ourselves to walk around like comatose idiots. As a result, we’re colliding like bumper cars all over city sidewalks, in parks, in front of national monuments, in bars, and anywhere else we can run into a brick wall or look like a fun target for someone who wants to see if they can tip over the unbalanced texting person on the curb.
I’m just as guilty of it as anyone else, and here I am presenting scientific proof that if we continue to do it, we’ll all eventually walk into a pole at some point, but will that stop me? Not completely. I try to avoid the habit, but at times it creeps in without me even realizing I’m doing it! Before cell phones, was there some other distraction that was considered the latest trendy threat to our collective sanity? Did people walk down city sidewalks hunched over open books in 1985? Did people carry around those 90s-era handheld portable TVs? Enlighten me. I find it hard to believe this is the first time we’ve had a weird vice of this nature.