PHONE NO

This has to stop

I do it. You do it. Your mother does it. Maybe even your grandmother. Definitely your stock broker, your barber, your manicurist, your doctor and your lawyer. But it’s tearing our world’s great cities apart. I’m talking about reading your phone while you walk down a busy sidewalk. It’s the worst thing ever. And everyone must stop doing it, immediately.

The sidewalks where I work, in New York City, are already dodge and weave affairs. There are, depending on the day and the hour, the piles of garbage bags, the sidewalk food carts and fruit stands, the unfortunate homeless who congregate around phone booths and garbage cans, the confused tourists, meandering, and the confident business professionals, plowing through. There are the medical technicians in their scrubs, working their grueling schedules and taking lunch breaks at 10 AM, and there are the two-by-two snaking lines of rambunctious private school children, out for a constitutional. There are the temporary vinyl entrance sheds in winter that restaurants erect so that their heating bills survive the Polar vortex. There are human totems 20 yards apart, facing each other, wondering if you have a moment for Planned Parenthood or Save the Whales.

Through this valley of the Shadows of Death walk many, just like me, just trying to get from subway station to desk, and back again. And then there’s you. You, with the phone. Playing a game. Watching your blue dot move on a map. Talking on the phone but staring at your lock screen. Venmoing. Slacking. Tindering. Video chatting! Reading. An. eBook.

People. People. You simply cannot do these things while ambulating in urban civilization. It is a thin, fragile dome that protects our world from the pure entropy outside of it–one that you are going to blindly bash into, head or crooked hand first, and shatter. We are just a few more phone walkers short of a kind of critical mass, where those of us who do not walk while staring at our phones will be forced to tangle with those of you, the new walking dead, who do. You, who have been zombified into ignorance of the basic human decency we all rely on as part of the social fabric of our existence, will no longer be given truck.

We will knock the phones out of your hands. Oops. Sorry. We will stumble into your shoulders, ruining your high scores, as your fingers streak across your candy, or your birds, or your palaces, or whatever you are pushing around the screen. We will swipe you right. We will tangle–with your headphone wires–as we push past your blocking of the subway doors, and your not stepping off to allow passengers to exit the train. (Which is the subject of another piece.)

(We won’t do these things. No one should do these things. But we will fantasize not just about doing them, but about the process of our fantasies becoming reality, while still actually remaining fantasies, something for which there should be a word, preferably invented by a 19th century German philosopher.)

This is a last plea, before our idle daydreams become true vigilante justice that results in endlessly snaking lines at the Apple Genius Bar for screen replacements.

In other words, heaven help us all when the Apple Watch arrives.

Follow Paul on Twitter. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

home our picks popular latest obsessions search