Mobile At Your Own Pace


By Peter-Shaun Tyrell

Photo courtesy of FaceMePLS.

Cell phone addiction has a lot in common with many other addictions: You alienate yourself from your friends and family, you miss important appointments because of the addiction, and in some extreme cases it can cause death. At the very least, cell phone use can be a major nuisance to others who are in a rush to work or who simply watch where they are going.

One city in China however has implemented a plan to counter the scourge. Chongqing has marked out a 165-foot stretch of pathway with a mobile user lane and a non-mobile user lane. The special designated pathways were not created by the city’s officials but by the Meixin Group, a marketing company that manages the entertainment area.

Although this does seem like a good idea (practical though a bit bureaucratic) the whole stunt was implemented to be completely ironic. The intention was to simply highlight how addicted cell phone users are to their phones.

Chongqing isn’t an isolated case but was actually inspired by a National Geographic stunt in which they created the same markings. The upcoming television series, Mind Over Masses filmed pedestrians and examined the results.

The findings are not surprising in the least. Cell phone users were oblivious to the markings. The only people who actually followed the path were cyclists and non-oblivious people who looked at the markings questioningly and made jokes.

As previously mentioned, Chongqing performed the ironic sketch to highlight the addiction to phones. Cell phone addiction (as silly as it sounds) is an emerging field of research in which scientists study the effects, signs, and solutions.

Many may think that it is all very preposterous and you can all put your phone down whenever you feel like it. The Fall City internet addiction recovery program, reSTART will beg to differ, which has a specific section for cell phone usage.

For those wondering whether they qualifiy as a cell phone addict, reSTART offers the sensitively named Crackberry Addict Quiz, which makes you wonder if the site is taking itself seriously. However upon calling the contact number, I was told that “many” of the self-confessed cell phone addicts “did take the quiz before calling.”

In 2013, reSTART met with Chinese and Korean delegates to discuss internet addiction, which they called “their #1 public health threat,” smartphones being a major part of the problem.

However, the problem isn’t relegated to the eastern hemisphere as Americans have conducted research into what the PEW Research Center is calling “distracted walking.” Ohio State observed hospital data between 2005 – 2010 and discovered that injuries involving cell phones and walking doubled during these years.

A Nevada Assemblyman, Harvey Munford tried to push through a bill to make it illegal to pay attention to our phones as we cross the street. The bill did not go through. However, in Rexburg, Idaho, a city council voted 4-2 to issue a $50 fine for people who cross the street and text at the same time.

All of these stunts, fines, and laws all attempt to reduce the use of cell phone because it is felt the over-usage is a detriment. However, the most important question is: do they work? The National Geographic stunt did not, as the results show. Additionally, a study published in The New York Times suggests that cell phone bans may not work.

Cheng Cheng, a graduate student in economics at Texas A&M University, conducted a study with a focus on examining the effect of cell phone bans on a driver’s behavior. His study claims that when a state introduces a ban on drivers using cell phones, the usage drops 50 percent. However it remains unclear whether the ban reduces accidents. The study suggests the ban splits drivers down the middle.

On one hand we have drivers concealing their cell phone usage, making them more dangerous (increasing accidents), but at the same time, other drivers are more aware of cell phone usage causing accidents. This proves that the ban affects the driver’s behavior but doesn’t help the original aim: to reduce accidents. It may be safe to assume that we can apply these results to the law against crossing the street and texting that will not actually reduce the act but make more people aware.