Gary Littman


Garry Littman is the owner and director of The Language House in Geneva which organises English language training for professional people, companies and students. He was a radio and newspaper journalist in his native Australia and ran a restaurant in Kathmandu in his younger days. He is an English language trainer and an aficionado of pétanque.

Smart-phone zombies are the new walking dead

Walking, most of us would agree, is a relatively simple and safe activity. That is, until you have a phone in your hand.

All over the world, growing numbers of *smombies (smart-phone zombies) and petextrians (people who text while walking) are dying or seriously injured. After decades of falling pedestrian fatalities, the last 10 years has seen a spike of between 15 and 40 per cent in injuries and fatalities.

The digital era is rapidly transforming our species and our upper spinal cord. We no longer scan for sabre-tooth tigers, keep an eye on the horizon, or even an eye on the out-of-control Ford Transit van veering towards us. Instead, more and more of us walk blindly, with our heads bowed; seduced and distracted by our social media or the latest episode of The Walking Dead.

A recent study of 14,000 pedestrians in Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Paris, Rome and Stockholm found that 25 per cent of young people use their smart-phones while walking.  

We are not quite the brilliant multi-taskers we think we are. Walking, talking and chewing gum might be about our limit.

Governments are starting to react to this phenomenon, but with vastly different approaches.

Two German cities, Cologne and Augsburg have introduced in-ground traffic light technology which allows smombies to see the colour of the traffic lights without lifting their heads. Australia is expected to follow shortly. (If ground guidance becomes the new urban communication strategy, the pavement may soon be the centre of a real estate boom.)

In China, the city of Chongqing, has introduced a footpath dedicated to smart-phone users to reduce accidents involving children and the elderly.

In some US cities, legislators have introduced a $50 fine for pedestrians who text while crossing the street. Repeat offenders face 15 days in jail.

The data is still coming in, but it seems quite clear that pedestrians, especially younger ones, can do stupid things with smart-phones which can have tragic consequences.

*The word smombie comes from Germany. It was judged the ‘coolest word’ in 2015 at the annual Youth Word of the Year contest organised by dictionary publishers Langenscheidt.





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