As a recovering smartphone addict, I’ve needed my next text so badly that I’ve neglected friends, dropped out of conversation, let vacation scenery wiz by unnoticed and walked entire blocks without seeing where I was going.
For me, distracted walking is guaranteed to lead to disaster. With eyes wide open and no obstacles in my way, I’ve managed to damage my property and my body.
I’ve misjudged the curb and ended up in tears more times than I can count. Once, playing soccer, I broke my ankle and cracked my tibia. I wasn’t doing fancy tricks or going in for a tackle. There was no collision; no heart-stopping, breath-holding moment of impact. I just tripped myself.
And then there was the 42nd street Incident. One cold night, crossing 42nd Street with a large and weighty backpack strapped to my shoulders, I tipped over. I landed on my back, smack in the middle of the street, arms and legs flailing. It took a team of coordinated and shocked New Yorker’s to hoist me to my feet. It was humiliating, life-endangering and to top it off, even though I landed on my back, I managed to put a hole in the knee of my brand new jeans.
All of this without any “help” from a smart phone.
People should be taking tumbles and trips of the most un-fun kind. There should be more broken ankles, bruised shins and skinned knees. I don’t wish pain on anyone. I just don’t see how we can routinely cross the street like this and come out unscathed.
And, we are in fact, hurting ourselves. I read an estimate that at least 10% of injuries landing people in the ER are caused by cell phone distraction. The number may be bigger. People tend not to self report embarrassing things like falling through an open manhole while playing Cut The Rope.
The problem of distracted walking is so bad that in London, they’ve installed bumpers around light poles. Really? Yes. You can read about it here.
I hope New York City won’t resort to bubble wrapping light posts, mail boxes and the few remaining pay phone stands to keep us safe from ourselves. But these obstacles are very real – as are pot holes, traffic, uneven sidewalks and surly, surging crowds.
For me, getting my nose out of my phone was a survival imperative. Let’s face it, I need all my faculties synched and focused when I’m walking. So I put myself on a 12 Step Program: 12 steps without looking at my phone … then another 12 steps with no phone and then another. Now I make it to and fro without a tweet or a text.
Once I picked up my head, I noticed all the people around me walking with their heads down. For these shots, I held my phone up and allowed distracted walkers to move themselves into my frame. Not a single person noticed a stranger taking their picture. I was sure I’d have some explaining to do. I was sure that in New York City, a city where there’s so much to see, that someone would look up.
Paying more attention to my phone than my feet isn’t just physically hazardous. It’s also socially awkward and stifles the senses.
I know, I know. I’m like the friend who finds their soul mate and can’t believe anyone lives single or the person who reads about Chia Seeds or tries Boot Camp – completely drinks the Kool-Aid and wants you love it as much as they do. I think I’m on to something though and I’ve discovered more than just how to avoid a visit to Roosevelt Hospital’s ER.
I came to Candy Crush late in the craze but made up for it with lots of enthusiastic play time. One Christmas, my mother and I spent so much time blowing up sugary confections that my then 7-year-old niece apologized for introducing us to the game. I’ve sat at dinner and pulled my phone out of my purse because I think I hear my text ping or because I haven’t and I wonder why nobody is texting.
And New York City (any city, any place) has a lot to offer or a lot to be missed. There’s architecture and art and love isn’t just in the air, it’s on the street right in front of you! You just have to look up, look around, pay attention.
So come on everyone, give it a try. Save your ankle bones, protect your knees and lift your spirits. Put your phones down and pick your eyes up.
If you don’t want to listen to me, listen to Tupac.
Or listen to Annie Lennox … or if you don’t know that musical reference, don’t worry. Just know this: The streets where I walk are a little safer now that I’m phone free. It could be argued that I’ve lost my chance to “bump” into someone interesting but I’ve increased my chance to make eye contact. I still slip when out with a group of friends. Social media sometimes sucks me back, but I try to stay in the moment – ready and present for potential magic.
We found some magic at The Spyglass Rooftop Bar at the Archer Hotel (38th St, NYC). Rooftop bars in NYC are crowded and magic can be tough to spot in a packed room. But the bouncer hooked us up with comfy seats and an amazing view of the Empire State Building and the Eternal Lights from the 9/11 Memorial. And they serve Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc. (It’s much too busy to order a margarita here. Stick with something simple.)
Cakebread Cellars believes that life’s occasions are elevated by good wine, good food and good people – and I couldn’t agree more.
Life’s occasions are also elevated by keeping your head up and your phone stowed so you see more than you miss and you have the chance to capture every, single, magic moment.