In 2012, I spotted a very “strange” joke during April fool’s day played by Philadelphia’s Mayor: he installed an “E-Lane,” a designated sidewalk space for distracted pedestrians who are walking while using their electronic devices. In 2013, Ohio State University published a research which showed that the injuries related to cell phone use for pedestrians in public areas were multiplied between 2005 and 2010 (you can find more things about the study here and here). The same year Stanford University acknowledging the danger of injury due to mobile phone use created and posted “Distracted Walking Posters” (as shown here and here). In 2014, Washington, DC and Chongqing, China also implement a lane on the pavement for distracted walkers. In Washington it was an experiment initiated by National Geographic in order to monitor crowds’ behavior but Chongqing‘s city councils truly expects pedestrians to use the “texting” lanes while using their mobile phone. Recently in the city of Antwerp, a “text walking lane” was clearly marked in pedestrian streets in the city center, as an advertisement.
All of these actions clearly show, the growing problem of people being absorbed by their mobile phone while in public. The numbers of global mobile subscriptions, as shown below by ITU, is impressive.
Hatuka underlines how technology influences, among other aspects of our life, the spatial use of public space as new behaviors and needs emerge (Tali Hatuka, Eran Toch, 2014). De Souza e Silva and Frith reveal that due to the extended use of technological devices that allow people to bring private activities, like chatting or listening to music, in public space the traditional perception of “public” has changed (de Souza e Silva A., Frith J., 2012). Although the interaction with technology in public space does not necessary means people are becoming more isolated, texting and chatting through their mobile phones prove to be pretty dangerous.
But are the “text walking lane” of Chongqing the right way to handle the absorbed by technology citizens? Is creating safe conditions for being absorbed by technology, the right way to deal with this? Is having isolated pedestrians in public spaces what we want from our cities? Is that what we want from our cities?