Sure, we all need to look at our phones now and then. But for a growing population, “head down” is no longer merely a brief moment, but how all walking is done. The neck is bent, the headphones are in; collisions are barely avoided by a last minute glance.
Meet the “phoneheads”: the head-down marchers taking over city streets around the world. You’ve surely seen them; you may even be one yourself — and they’re destroying city life as we know it.
The look of streets is changing fast. What Jane Jacobs once called “the ballet of the good sidewalk,” looks today more like a hunchback bumper derby. The idea of men or women who “look to the horizon” — or even just the world around them — has been surrendered to more apelike aspirations. Not to mention that phoneheads are far more likely to get hit by cars and bicycles. One phone-tapper actually walked off a cliff.
Collisions aside, phoneheadism is also highly contagious. When another person is staring at their phone, you start to wonder if maybe they’ve seen something you haven’t. There’s an itchy-impulse to pull out your own phone and see what’s up. Soon the entire sidewalk is transformed into a zombie shuffle that cannot be described as attractive.
If the rise of the phonehead wasn’t so annoying, it might be hilarious. Many people come to big cities like New York hoping to be a “be part of it,” whatever that means. Yet day-to-day life is still spent fixated on the back of several small rectangles that could be anywhere. Aldous Huxley was right when he suggested that, in the far future, it would be easy to travel between cities, but that by then there would no real point in doing so.
While it seems like we’re here in the city, we’ve all become part-timers, not fully living here at all, but inhabiting it halfway.
But is there more to this problem than just bad posture and more pedestrian collisions? What’s happening here is the kind of small thing that is actually revealing of something larger. It isn’t crazy to suggest that our cities are in the midst of a cold war with the phone screen, or more precisely, the worlds behind it. The rise of…