What if there were a magical, high-tech way you could keep yourself from walking into a wall?
I know. You say, “Did someone invent hands and eyeballs?” But bear with me. This concerns people who walk while looking at their phones. We are supposed to regard them with an eye roll. Hopeless slaves to their glowing glass slabs. If people were walking around reading a paperback book, or opening letters, we’d think: “What a literate person!” But when they’re reading an email, we think: “Modern idiots.”
“Walking with the phone” meant something different in my childhood. The beige dial phone on the wall had a long cord, an innovation announced with great fanfare: Now you can walk up to 8 feet away! Pity the people with short cords, like angry dogs straining at the leash. Not you!
The ads, I’m sure, showed happy housewives in pastel dresses, heads uptilted in laughter as they enjoyed the modern freedom of talking on the phone in a different room than the one in which the phone resided.
That was then. Today, no one has a phone with a cord. We can walk and talk without restraint. And while we do it, we’re always looking down, hastening the course of evolution so we all resemble Quasimodo, and we walk into walls and phone poles. Somehow in the extension-cord days, people managed to wander and chat without toppling down the basement stairs, but we have lost that once-useful skill.
Of course, no one who walks into a pole or tumbles off a curb is talking; no one talks on the phone anymore. It is almost rude to call someone. I get a call, and it’s like seeing the telegram delivery boy come up the walk in the ‘40s: We wonder who died. Instead of talking, we walk along texting furiously, which is like someone in 1879 striding along the street banging on a telegraph key. But we have to keep scrolling social media in case someone on Twitter was incredibly wrong. This is a critical part of being engaged with the world; every hour gives you someone who is wrong on Twitter, and it is important to know who, and why, and ...
WHANG. You just walked into a plate-glass window. Your first thought: “I am embarrassed by this sudden glass.” Second thought: “There’s security camera footage. In a few hours I will be wrong on Twitter. If only there was some way to keep this from happening!”
There is. Google will soon introduce “Heads Up,” an Android-only feature that detects when you’re walking toward something and tells you to look up and put your phone back. Because it does not deliver a bladder-emptying electric shock, most people will ignore it.
What we need is a headband attached to a metal wire that connects to a motorized wheel in the small of the back. When the headband detects brain activity indicating internet-induced excitation, it sends a signal to the motor, jerking our head up.
Downside: Someone will hack it and introduce a virus that yanks the head waaaay back, and the streets will be full of people staggering around, staring at the clouds.
On second thought, maybe that’s what we should do now and then, anyway. It really is a beautiful world. If that’s what it takes to remind us, fine.